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Posted at 4:22 PM ET, 01/28/2011

Cuccinelli says Fairfax can't charge for AP courses

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Rosalind S. Helderman

Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) says it's illegal for public schools to require students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses to pay the AP course fee.

In one of a deluge of legal opinions Cuccinelli published Friday, he noted that no state law specifically allows schools to mandate the AP fee, and elementary and secondary education is generally required to be free.

"Accordingly," he wrote, "it is my opinion that a local school board cannot impose a mandatory fee on students taking advanced placement courses for the required taking of the Advanced Placement Examination."

His opinion came in response to a question from Sen. David Marsden (D-Fairfax), who asked whether Fairfax County Public Schools is legally allowed to require AP students to pay for the entrance fee for their AP exams. FCPS now charges students $75 to take AP courses.

"Because the Advanced Placement Examination test is the required end-of-course examination, it cannot reasonably be viewed as a service or program for which a fee may be levied," Cuccinelli wrote.

We've reached out to Fairfax schools for a response and will bring it to you when we receive it.

By Rosalind S. Helderman  | January 28, 2011; 4:22 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County, Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman  
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I understand the AG's point, not sure I agree w/ it.

I agree that basic public education should be free, but AP courses aren't open to all students since all students can't pass the exams. AP courses are above basic education.

Since in many cases AP classes can be used for college credits, public schools would be offering free college courses to students that can do the work.

Looking at the UVA chart for AP credits, in some cases a student could earn up to 8 credits for passing an AP exam. UVA in-state cost per credit hour is $278. $75 for ~$2200 worth of credit isn't a bad deal.

Is the AG ready to drop athletic fees too?

Posted by: BEEPEE | January 29, 2011 2:44 AM | Report abuse

The AG is an idiot. Only courses that are mandatory for all students for graduation would be in that category. Any courses, programs, extracurricular activities and sports that are OPTIONAL for students and not mandatory can and do charge - and they should because the taxpayers duty is to fund core academic courses that are required for a diploma.

Even the State SOQs work this way. They only can be spent on things that are deemed essential to academic standards.

What the AG has done - is invite expensive lawsuits - funded by - you guess it - tax dollars.

This guy obviously aspires to higher office.

My question is - is he "fit" for higher office when you see his kind of thinking on issues like this?

Posted by: larryg1 | January 29, 2011 8:19 AM | Report abuse

It sounds like Cuccinelli is saying that if a school division in the state REQUIRES students to take the Advanced Placement (AP) test as part of taking an AP course (i.e. if you take the course you have to take the test), then it cannot charge students for a course requirement. (sports are obviously different than academic courses)

And that really is part of the story here. The Cuccinelli opinion means that school divisions who require AP students to take the end-of-course test will have to pay for those tests. In lean budget years, that might be problematic for those school divisions that deliberately promote the AP program.

The other, more important part of the story, is that a very high percentage of AP course-takers nationwide do NOT take the AP tests. They don't do so because AP course-taking has become the transcript enhancer, the course de rigueur, for those who seek admission to "select and selective" colleges and universities. And they get accepted to college months BEFORE the AP tests results come back.

The simple fact is that AP courses (and tests) are not all they're cracked up to be, and the data prove it. Most school districts give students a bonus for taking an AP course that enhances their GPAs. That's a big reason many students enroll; it puffs up the GPA and burnishes the transcript. As one summed it up, it isn't about the learning, "It's all about looking good."

Research shows, however, the the BEST predictor of success in college (grades) and college completion is the UNweighted high school GPA. The more bonus added (the more inflated the GPA), the lower the predictive value of the GPA.

There are perverse consequences to this gamed (but inaccurate) weighting practice. Students (and parents) get stressed; there's a sometimes ruthless competition played out among and between students for grades; it nourishes a behaviorist approach to education that diminishes the intrinsic motivation to learn. Indeed, some states are PAYING students to take AP courses and tests.

The final part of the story is that the general perception that AP is "better," is just not supported by the research. AP students do not do better in college nor do they graduate faster or at a higher rate than do non-AP students who take challenging coursework. More than forty percent of AP test-takers fail the test, and the average AP score is the equivalent to a C–.

"Oh, but it's more rigorous, and better" say supporters. That's the claim, but the research just doesn't back it up. Five different studies between 2002 and 2006 fail to confirm the "AP is better" myth.

A new book on research on AP basically concludes that "Despite the immense popularity of the program, the research evidence on its value is minimal." The College Board says that AP programs induce more students to consider college and enhance high school graduation rates are boosted, but in fact, "there is no evidence to back up these claims."

AP? More fiction than fact.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | January 29, 2011 8:22 AM | Report abuse

DrDemocracy is absolutely right. The AG's opinion states that if a school requires students to take the AP test at the conclusion of an AP class, the FCPS cannot force the student to pay for the AP test. If you examine the opinion, this is a fair reading of the authorities cited therein. It would be entirely reasonable for the FCPS to waive the AP test-taking requirement, which would likely result in students taking the AP test of their own volition (thus making it truly optional) to obtain college credit. In that case, the student would have to bear the cost.

Larryg: I'm so sick of reading puerile posts where commenters refer to others as "idiots". Save your playground taunts for that venue.

Posted by: mvlissides | January 29, 2011 8:51 AM | Report abuse

This is an AG opinion I agree with. As pointed out by others, the issue stems from requiring students to take the AP exam (at their expense) in order to get course credit. I believe that there is value in the AP coursework, especially in light of the alternative 'regular' high school classes, and better prepares students for the rigor of college. However, colleges are making it harder to get AP credit, so the value of passing the test is diminished. If FCPS wants every AP student to take the exam they need to find a way to pay for it. Otherwise, teachers need to develop their own in-school exam.

Posted by: AlligatorArms | January 29, 2011 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Does any school REQUIRE students to take AP? Isn't that totally optional?

Calling it "academic" does not mean that it is REQUIRED and THAT is the issue.

If a course or curriculum path is REQUIRED then I agree - the school cannot charge for that because it is a taxpayer responsibility.

But whose responsibility is the AP curriculum?

Does the State SOQs put money towards AP?

Posted by: larryg1 | January 29, 2011 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Does any school REQUIRE students to take AP? Isn't that totally optional?

Calling it "academic" does not mean that it is REQUIRED and THAT is the issue.

If a course or curriculum path is REQUIRED then I agree - the school cannot charge for that because it is a taxpayer responsibility.

But whose responsibility is the AP curriculum?

Does the State SOQs put money towards AP?

Posted by: larryg1 | January 29, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

When I went to HS back in the day, AP exams were technically not required, and thus parents had to pay. But, the AP exam was considered the final exam for the class, although it did not count as part of the final grade because the results weren't available until after the school year was well over. So each grading quarter was 25% of your course grade. If, however, you elected not to take the AP exam, you were given a final exam, and each grading quarter would count 20% with the final counting 20%. But here's the catch...since just about everyone took the AP exam, the teachers didn't have a final exam made up and ready to give. So the final exam for students who don't take the AP exam would be an old AP exam that the teacher used.

Now those exams are hard. Which would you rather have: 1) Your kid's really hard exam count for 20% of his/her grade, or 2) Your kid's really hard exam not count for their course grade, AND they might get college credit? Most parents opted to pay the fee for option 2, especially since it had the potential to save them money in the long run in college tuition costs.

Neat way of coercing parents into paying the fees for the technically "optional" exam.

Posted by: thetan | January 29, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

The AP is not REQUIRED for graduation. It might be considered by some parents and students as "required" for their plans but it's not a State Requirement for graduation and the State funds what is required.

What is the State and the Locality REQUIRED to fund?

They are REQUIRED to fund any course that they REQUIRE in order to earn a diploma.

Beyond that - it is up to the parents and their kids to decide how much "more" they want - that it THEIR responsibility to pay for - not taxpayers.

We've gotten ourselves into a situation where some people think that ANYTHING that schools offer is a taxpayer responsibility and that's simply not the case.

If the State thought that AP was a requirement - the funding for it would be included in the SOQ funding and it is not.

Some schools in Va - cannot afford to offer AP - they simply do not have the resources to offer it and the kids/parents have to consider other means to pursue that path.

This is one of the reasons why the State DOES FUND Community colleges and why kids in high school CAN take these courses as a foundation for a 4-year institution.

Why should taxpayers be paying for BOTH community colleges AND AP courses in HS when the material is the same?

Why not have the Community Colleges offer these courses at the price they charge others to take them?

Isn't that one possible outcome of forcing schools to eat the costs if they offer AP?

Just stop offering AP and instead offer satellite Community College AP courses?

In a lot of respects, it would make a lot more sense in my view.

Posted by: larryg1 | January 29, 2011 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Let's make some things clear:

Students do NOT have to take AP courses.

However, since so many students are taking AP courses to pad their transcripts and get a boost in GPA (AP courses get bonus points), and are opting NOT to take the AP test, some school divisions (like Fairfax) are REQUIRING those who take AP courses to also take the AP tests, and to pay for them.

As I pointed out above , the perception that "AP is better," a perception propagated relentlessly by the Post and education writer Jay Mathews, is erroneous. It does not hold up to research scrutiny. It is more fiction than fact.

One poster days that AP courses have "the potential to save them [parents] money in the long run in college tuition costs."

That may happen to some degree for some students, but colleges are limiting the number of AP credits students can use toward graduation, and more and more colleges are increasing the AP test score that earns credit (the average score is slightly below a 3, equating to a C–). The research shows, though, that most students who take AP do NOT graduate "faster" and thus save tuition costs.

larryg1 makes a valid point. Students can take dual enrollment courses and earn college credit, and they do so through the high school-community college partnership.

But AP has become so big, and the perception, however badly flawed and inaccurate, so embedded that it's "better" that a "mandatory" fee is viewed as an "obstacle."

I'd argue that the Cooch's opinion in this case is tainted as much if not more by politics than it is by sound legal reasoning or by a genuine concern for educational achievement.

Posted by: DrDemocracy | January 30, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

The AG opinion sounds like a straightforward interpretation of the law: Schools can't make families pay extra for required exams.

And the policy behind the law is a sound one. We do not want parents refusing to let their kids take AP courses because of the added financial burden.

Posted by: coastofutopia | January 30, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Cuccinelli (never thought I'd say that until now) on this one. The biggest problem is the way FCPS has handled this. They require all students to sit for the AP Exam as part of the course requirement. The punishment is that if you miss the AP Exam, you do not earn the 1.0 bonus point associated with the AP class on your transcript. Since FCPS is requiring parents/students to pay $75 for each exam a student is required to take, the student is basically purchasing the bonus point for the transcript. Now the craziest part about this whole thing is that a student can be legitimately sick and miss the AP exam (because AP limits makeup opportunities) and not be allowed the 1.0 bonus; but a student who goes into the testing room, writes his name on the answer sheet, and then goes to sleep for the next three hours does earn the 1.0 bonus. FCPS should just pay for the test (or make it optional) and then give the students the 1.0 bonus independent whether they show for the exam or not.

Posted by: Rob63 | January 31, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

He makes a good point. I'm paying a ridiculous amount of money this year to take my AP exams. If we have to pay for the exams, then we should be allowed to choose whether to take the exams in the first place. This is also preventing students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from taking the AP courses they would like to take. As coastofutopia says, we don't want parents refusing to let their children take the courses they want to take because of an added financial burden.

Posted by: equan_3 | January 31, 2011 11:38 PM | Report abuse

Apparently the FCPS superintendent, Jack Dale, explained to a school board workshop session last night what his lawyers had come up with. it was an open session, but the media, main stream or back water, hasn't reported anything.

Bottom line: AP test fees paid already this year will probably be refunded.

People who haven't paid yet may want to hold off to see how this is resolved.

Unpaid bills simply become obligations owned to the school in June, like a missing textbook that has to be found and turned in before they let you graduate. So there is no penalty for waiting to pay until June.

Maybe next time, Super Jack will ask the lawyers first.

The Virginia constitution uses the word "free" when talking about public education... You don't need to be a lawyer to understand what the word "free" means!

FCPS could simply make the tests optional. Then there would be no problem charging for it.

Selective colleges tend not to grant credits for APs, they want ALL the revenue from a full 120 hours for an undergrad degree. In many disciplines (eg foreign languages and math), placement exams are already widely used to make sure college freshmen are in the appropriate class.
So, take the demanding courses, learn a lot, but take the exam only if you think it is worth the money.

Posted by: soccer_ref | February 1, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

The only thing this ruling makes clear is the the AG is a pandering politician trying to correct for his gross misconduct that exposed his self-admitted ambitions.

Where is his self-righteous strict scrutinizing judicial philosophy here?

No where.

In case anyone here actually cares about Virginia law, localities have the authority to manage their own district policies, under which "optional fees" are included. You can take the class without sitting for the exam. If you want the AP (or IB, for that matter) credit you have to take the exam.

FCPS has picked up the tab for these tests for only the last few years, whereas these classes, and hence these tests, have been around for DECADES. Previous AGs--meaning those who have taken the job seriously as opposed to seeing it as a platform for delivering their own personalized ideology--haven't had a problem with this current policy.

Remember, this is the same guy who made Virginia a LAUGHING STOCK around the world with his creationism-only & climate-change-denying rhetoric & actions. At best he is an jerk. At worst he is a burgeoning American despot (see Richard Daley, Sharpe James, et al) who will use the power of his office to expand his power & them impose his will. He wants to prosecute a case which, were he to actually proceed, he will be required to lie (intentionally misrepresent) his intended target's actions. Unfortunately here in the Commonwealth, prosecutorial malpractice is commonly accepted. But then again, it isn't the AG's job here in Virginia to prosecute people, eh?

Or have y'all forgotten?

Remember when he ran, he said he wanted to transform the office of the AG, and was perfectly happy running only for the position for the rest of his non-term-limited career.

The AG is trying to save face for his early gaffes.

Do not fall for it.

Posted by: afreeman3 | February 1, 2011 6:25 PM | Report abuse

In response to Rob63 - according to the letter of the rule, students have to make an honest effort on the exam to get the 1.0 bump - so putting your name down and taking a nap doesn't count for that.
The bottom line with this and many school issues is that someone somewhere has to pay if we want top notch education. We can cut cut cut or we can put up the money and be willing to return to a more reasonable tax level. The current situation is not sustainable or good for our kids and their education.

Posted by: teacher21 | February 1, 2011 7:21 PM | Report abuse

This school year, in October, my school's administration dropped a bombshell; stating that all students currently enrolled in AP courses will be required to pay for their exams. Prior to this year, all exams were offered free of charge to each student enrolled, and instead of informing us before sign ups, the administration waited until October to tell anyone, including the teachers.

The school is requiring that all students pay for their tests, regardless of the nonexistent forewarning. This is why I agree completely with AG Cuccinelli's statement. If I am forced to pay for these tests, that is $240 that my family does not have at this time, and although it is a "deal" for gaining college credits, there are no scholarships for me to rely on, as I would have with my college education. The payment is only detrimental to my family's situation. Had I known before signing up for these classes, my choices would definitely have differed, and preparation would have been much easier.

Posted by: OutspokenStudent | February 1, 2011 9:21 PM | Report abuse

The AP exam administered in May is not a required end of the course exam in Fairfax County. The final exam at the end of the year is not the same thing. The AP scores don't even come back in time to count for that year. We get the scores in July.

The only requirement we have with regard to taking the AP exam (administered by College Board for the $75) is that you must take that exam to receive the extra point value for the course.

Posted by: dateacher | February 2, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

While it is true that the AP exam is not the actual final exam involved in the gradin of the course,if the class is taken, Fairfax expects you to sit fo the exam and to also pay for it. If it is not paid for earlier, it does become a financial obligation that the student will be required to pay at some point before graduation.
Although AP classes may not be the best form of education or learning, the alternative in most schools in he county is to be in a slow moving class of unmotivated students that does not et you anywhere. The Honors level English class I was in freshman year was doing more difficult work than my current teacher's standard level senior English class.

Posted by: erganizer | February 3, 2011 10:02 PM | Report abuse

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