Out of a budget of about $20 million, the Region 4 Board of Education spends 0.2 percent, or $36,000, to subsidize half the cost of Advanced Placement exams, or $47 per test for every student.
At Tuesday night’s board of education meeting that funding was called into question.
“We bring this up because most schools do not pay for the actual fee for the testing, the idea was to get in line with other schools,” explained Jane Cavanaugh, vice chair of the Region 4 Board of Education.
Across Connecticut such subsidies for AP exams on the district level are uncommon. The State Department of Education knew of only one other district, Enfield, that similarly subsidized exams. On the state level, exam fees for all students qualifying for free or reduced lunch are paid for in full. In 2019, the state reimbursed the college board $566,029 for 10,505 AP exams taken by these students.
Not all board members supported aligning the district with the prevailing practice.
“I think this conversation could be over really quickly. At $36,000 this is absolutely money well spent investing in our students,” said DG Fitton, a member of the board and a resident of Essex.
The district also pays for students to take early college experience courses that utilize the curriculum and exams given in University of Connecticut classes. Encouraging students to earn college credit helps families afford the cost of a college education, say some members of the board.
“This is an equity issue,” Paula Weglarz, a Deep River resident and member of the board. “What was the plan for kids who can’t afford it, how do we feel about eliminating the opportunity for other students?”
Cavanaugh suggested that if the board removes the subsidy, donations could be raised for low-income students unable to take the test without it. On the contrary, Fitton and Weglarz said that the board should not base its decision-making process on something beyond its control.
“Last year we were given these fees by the old superintendent and told that we could eliminate these to save some money. That’s why we’re talking about them. We shouldn’t have been led that way. This discussion needs to come from the idea that there is a financial need,” said Rick Daniels, a board member and resident of Deep River. “$36,000 in this whole budget is negligible. It was a waste of our time to consider it.”
In addition to AP and UConn courses, Valley Regional High School added an International Baccalaureate option for juniors and seniors. The program, which costs $12,000 per year, allows students to take two years of college-level courses and receive an internationally recognized diploma.
Last year, the board did not make a decision regarding whether the $714 fee required for senior-year exams for an IB would be paid by the district or by families. The board will need to decide this year for the first graduating class of IB students in the fall.
Unlike AP and UConn coursework, an IB diploma cannot be transferred to most colleges for credit, but the degree does give students a competitive advantage in college admissions.
“It opens doors and helps you get into schools,” Weglarz said.
Although several members suggested paying 50 percent of the IB exam cost, similar to the district’s policy for AP testing, the board was unable to reach an agreement on future funding for either IB and AP courses, and resolved instead to continue the matter in future budget discussions.