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Some criticize end of online AP program in rural state

May 15, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The end of Maine’s online Advanced Placement program has drawn criticism from families who say it’s helped high-performing students in the largely rural state get a leg up in competitive college admissions.

Representatives of the state Department of Education told a legislative committee Tuesday that the program’s contract ends in June. Maine would have to find room in the budget to continue the roughly $150,000-a-year program while lawmakers are hashing out the Democratic governor’s proposed two-year, $8 billion budget.

For over a decade, Maine’s AP4ALL program has provided free access to online Advanced Placement courses, allowing students to take demanding courses with national standards in return for potential credits at colleges nationwide. A statewide laptop initiative has long funded the program, but the education department is proposing using that money elsewhere.

A handful of parents and students have contacted lawmakers in recent weeks, arguing Maine’s program benefits high-performing students by taking rigorous courses their schools don’t offer. Republican Rep. Justin Fecteau, an education committee member, said he wants to use department funds to preserve the program.

“It’s becoming increasingly central to get into competitive colleges across America,” Maine State Employees Association communications and training director Tom Farkas said.

His son, Alexander, is a graduating senior accepted to the University of Pennsylvania who took three AP courses through the state program and eight AP courses through his Augusta high school. He also took a $1,750 AP chemistry course through a private provider when his school canceled its own course.

“All other Maine high school students will be out of luck if they want to take AP courses” not offered at their schools, Farkas said.

But education officials question the effectiveness of Maine’s online AP program at a time when some struggling schools lack language or music teachers.

“It’s a big investment for a very small number of our students,” education department spokeswoman Kelli Deveaux said. “And when we look at equity, there’s a very large population that might be served by having our doors open to our university system.”

Roughly 390 students signed up for the program in the 2017-2018 year, with half completing Advanced Placement courses, according to Maine’s Department of Education.

“It sounds really good,” Education Commissioner Pender Makin said. “But so far it hasn’t met the goals — it’s come not even close to touching the goals it was originally intended to meet.”

Makin said students can instead take online early college courses through public universities, stressing Maine’s early college programs now reach more than 94% of high schools.

A spokesman for Gov. Janet Mills, whose budget boosts funding for early college programs, said her administration will work with lawmakers to determine the AP4ALL program’s future.

Some families say it’s unfair to pit AP courses against early college programs geared toward helping students earn credits at particular universities.

Gabrielle Cooper, a sophomore at Dartmouth College, wrote lawmakers Wednesday.

She took AP courses in European history and macroeconomics through Maine’s program, and said AP4ALL levels the playing field for young Mainers while letting them explore unique topics independently. Her mother, Amy, added that it helped Gabrielle satisfy a requirement for some colleges that she take four years of history classes, which her high school didn’t offer.

“Once again, students at schools with bare bones budgets will be at another disadvantage,” Amy Cooper, of Pittston, said.

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