HYATTSVILLE – Although Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell has proposed a $2 billion budget he thinks addresses the school system’s needs, some board of education members think there is still more to ask for. As the Prince George’s County Board of Education travels throughout the county for its three […]
HYATTSVILLE – Although Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell has proposed a $2 billion budget he thinks addresses the school system’s needs, some board of education members think there is still more to ask for.
As the Prince George’s County Board of Education travels throughout the county for its three budget work sessions and public hearings, this point is made evident.
So far the board has traveled to Charles H. Flowers and Northwestern high schools to make testifying on the budget “more convenient” for residents. The board will travel to Oxon Hill High School for its next meeting this week.
During the meeting last week at Northwestern, board members and residents alike wanted their questions answered and took time to advocate for more funding in certain areas.
During the work session portion, Student Member Juwan Blocker said he felt the meeting was a “perfect time” to talk about Advanced Placement (AP) testing fees.
Earlier this school year, the school system announced it would no longer cover testing fees for all AP students and later said it would cover them for the 2016-2017 school year, but not after.
“I know that earlier during the year we made the decision that, due to funding issues, we were going to have to, unfortunately, only cover the cost for students who were on free/reduced lunch,” Blocker said, explaining that Maxwell later said fees would be covered for all students this year. “I recall us mentioning that we’re going to bring this issue back.”
Blocker led a coalition in opposition to the PGCPS decision to no longer fund AP test fees in 2016, in partnership with student government leaders. He said he specifically brought up the issue at the Jan. 31 meeting because some of those leaders were in attendance.
He said he wanted to know if PGCPS was allocating any money to cover fees for the AP tests.
Monica Goldson, who is one of the deputy superintendents, said PGCPS has no intention of covering any students’ AP fees for the upcoming school year. In response, Blocker asked Goldson and the PGCPS staff what the board would have to do to ensure those costs are covered.
“This is a program that definitely prepares our students to be college and career-ready and gives them not only the skills, but the opportunity to take courses and the test, that if they pass they will get possible college credit,” he said.
To establish a line item for the AP test fees, Goldson said the school system would have to approximate the cost based off of current student enrollment in the Advanced Placement program.
“In order to be able to cover the cost of Advanced Placement (fees), we would have to eliminate a existing program that currently exists in the school system,” Goldson said.
There are also other factors in the matter. Goldson highlighted increased enrollment in PGCPS’ dual enrollment programs, which she said currently has a passing rate of 80 percent. The pass rate for current AP programs in PGCPS is 27 percent, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
Goldson said the school system is working to make sure students in both programs have a similar experiences and success rates, but at the same time students in dual enrollment incur similar costs to the AP fees that are not covered by the school system.
“I don’t want anyone to walk away thinking that Dual Enrollment doesn’t cost fees to families, just like AP,” Goldson said. “So even though legislation says that the school district has to pay for the course, those students still have to pay for their textbooks and materials, which many times, in most cases, is far greater than the amount for the advanced placement exam.”
However, Blocker said paying exam fees should be approved.
“Despite whatever the cost is, I just think that’s something that we need to fund and something at the top of our priority list,” he said.
Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III also voiced frustration with the elimination of AP fees from the PGCPS budget.
Both Burroughs and Blocker said eliminating funding for the AP fees would put low-income students at a disadvantage and would cause enrollment drops in the program.
On a personal note, Burroughs said he would not have been able to take AP tests without the fees being covered and said he is proud the school system has covered them. He said it is something PGCPS has gotten right and should not be changed.
“I think that says a lot about our values. Either we believe students can achieve at high levels or we don’t, and then if believe that, we’ll reflect that in our budget,” Burroughs said.
He said he believes the money is already in the current budget, but the school staff has to start making cuts. Burroughs has his eye on eliminating the school system TV station, which runs the cameras for the public meetings as well as shows Count on Us and The Science Bowl, and cutting positions in central office.
“We have money, we just have to determine what we value as a board,” he said.
Burroughs also pointed out the loss of the federal Heat Start grants, which total approximately $6 million. However, Goldson said that eliminating 21 positions in central office made up part of that grant loss.
Board Chair Segun Eubanks said the board would have an opportunity to discuss the AP fees issue further in the future, particularly during the upcoming board budget committee meetings.
“It’s a complicated issue on both sides and so it’s going to be an important conversation for us to have when we move to the next stage,” Eubanks said.