State aid sought for high-level courses

Without funding, advocates see cuts

A nonprofit program that has helped public high schools in Boston and across the state offer more college-level courses is pushing for a substantial increase in state funding, or it may have to drop more than a dozen schools.

The Mass Math + Science Initiative says it needs $3.25 million in state funding to maintain so-called advanced placement courses at the 53 high schools it serves as well as to expand the program to 12 additional high schools.

Currently, the program receives $400,000 in state funding.

The program’s officials have not yet decided which schools they would eliminate if they fail to secure additional state funding.


The advanced placement courses, established by the College Board, can often be a boon for high school students who do well on the final exams, enabling them to earn college credit and save on tuition money, depending on the rules of the college they eventually attend.

“We would have to examine all schools, including in Boston, and come up with a fair way to make a cut,’’ said William Guenther, president of Mass Insight Education, a Boston nonprofit that operates the Mass Math + Science Initiative.

Creating the need for a heavier reliance on state money is the looming expiration of a $13 million grant from the National Math + Science Initiative, a public-private partnership. That five-year grant, set to end next year, calls on recipients to come up with new funding sources so programs can continue afterward. Mass Insight is raising $2 million in private funds.

Governor Deval Patrick responded to the program’s request this year by recommending $2.4 million in his budget proposal for the next fiscal year to create grants for advanced placement math and science courses.

But the House Ways and Means Committee subsequently decided to recommend only $1 million in its budget proposal, prompting some legislators to file amendments to restore the governor’s request or increase funding to $3.25 million. Debate over those amendments is expected to begin next week.


Representative Paul McMurtry, a Dedham Democrat, said he has cosponsored each amendment.

“Dedham has had proven results,’’ McMurtry said. “It’s enabled students to reach their full potential and beyond. . . . Now is not the time to cut back.’’

Yet regardless of what amount is ultimately approved, the money would not automatically go to Mass Insight; any organization interested in expanding advanced placement offerings at public high schools will have the chance to vie for the money.

But Guenther said Mass Insight should be well positioned to prevail in the competition for the grant money because it has established a solid track record.

“The good news is the program has scale and has shown widespread impact on 53 high schools,’’ Guenther said.

The program has created more than 10,000 seats for advanced placement courses across the 53 high schools, including seven in Boston and in such districts as Revere, Chelsea, and Springfield. By partnering with many high schools in urban areas, the program has greatly increased opportunities for black and Latino students to take advanced placement courses - a commonplace experience in high schools in the state’s well-to-do suburbs.

In addition to helping high schools expand the number of Advanced Placement courses, the program also provides more than a week’s worth of training to teachers and runs a Saturday tutoring program.


But the Mass Insight program has proven unpopular among some teacher unions, including Boston’s, because it provides a $100 bonus to teachers for each student who passes an advanced placement exam. Teachers also get additional money if a certain number of students in their classes pass the exams. The Boston Teachers Union opposes bonuses based on individual performance, believing they go against the spirit of teamwork.

Guenther said the bonuses will continue, but will be covered with private donations and not state money.

Kimberly Mendoza, 18, a senior at East Boston High School, said she found her advanced placement courses challenging, but “doable.’’ She is taking advanced placement courses in chemistry, literature, calculus, and Spanish literature. Last year, she passed the advanced placement exams in statistics and language.

She said it would be disappointing if fewer students were able to enroll in the courses because of a lack of funding.

“It’s given me a lot of confidence in myself and that I will be able to excel in college courses,’’ said Mendoza, who will be studying chemistry next year at Tufts University.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.