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District budget cut hits low-income AP students

Elimination of a low-income student subsidy may have led to a significant drop in the number of advancement-placement students in Burbank Unified and an even deeper plunge in AP exams taken during the 2017-18 school year.

One hundred fewer students took AP classes, while 453 fewer exams were taken during the last school year, said John Paramo, the district’s director of secondary education, during a school board meeting last Thursday.

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The College Board, a nonprofit organization that offers college readiness services, such as the SAT and AP programs, lists the cost of each AP exam at $94.

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A student must pass an AP exam in a given subject with a score of three or better to have a chance to receive college credits.

According to Paramo, AP tests had been subsidized for years by the district and the College Board for low-income students. Each entity covered 50% of the cost, which made exams free for students who qualified for the district’s free-and-reduced lunch program as long as they filled out a fee waiver.

The cost to the district was estimated to be from $20,000 to $30,000 annually, though there wasn’t an official total. That process, however, changed before the 2017-18 school year.

“Last year was the first year where, if you were on the free-and-reduced lunch and you applied for the fee waiver and got the fee waiver, you were paying for 50% of the test as opposed to paying nothing,” Paramo said. “I think that that is a really good explanation as to why we had the fewer tests.”

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In all, the number of AP students in Burbank Unified dropped from 1,204 in 2016-17 to 1,104 last school year, while the 2,462 exams taken last year was about 500 fewer compared to 2016-17.

Overall, Burroughs High’s 605 AP students took 1,284 tests, while Burbank High’s 496 students completed 1,175 tests. The district’s Independent Learning Academy reported three students and three tests.

Of that group, 40% of Burbank High students were listed as socioeconomically disadvantaged, while that percentage was 29% for Burroughs, according to Paramo.

Burbank High’s higher percentage of low-income students and the subsidy’s elimination may have led to 383 fewer exams taken by the school’s students last year.

When asked about funding for the subsidies, Supt. Matt Hill said the money dried up.

“Last fall, when we were looking at the budget, we didn’t have enough to do that,” Hill said. “So, we didn’t offer that additional $50 discount.”

The lack of notice caught board member Steve Ferguson off guard.

“Next time, come to the board,” Ferguson told district staff. “This is an access issue. It’s an equity issue. I don’t understand why we’re hearing about it the year after.”

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While board members directed district staff to return during a future meeting with more information, such as reasons why so many students chose to not take the test and whether money was the main reason, there are efforts underway to find funding.

Paramo and Sharon Cuseo, district assistant superintendent of instructional services, said they are looking into using Local Control Accountability Plan funds to cover the costs.

Hill said the district is also applying for a federal grant known as Title IV, which would help offset test costs. If the grant is approved, students may see the subsidies return in the spring.

“The drop in AP students, in general, concerns us and, if it had anything to do with money, that also concerns us,” Hill said. “We’re looking into that, and we’re going to find a way to fund this.”

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