Several school districts are planning to pick up the tab so high school juniors can continue to take the ACT college-entrance exam for free after the state announced it would stop covering the cost.
The Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia districts are among those that will pay for the testing, along with Lee’s Summit, the largest district in Eastern Jackson County. Several others, including Springfield, are considering it.
Missouri began in 2015 paying for juniors to take the test once. Nationwide, a growing number of states and districts pay for students to take the ACT or SAT, with advocates saying it encourages students who might not have been considering college to apply. But Missouri education officials said in July that the state would no longer pay and that less affluent districts could request fee waivers from ACT for students who are poor enough to qualify for government-subsidized school lunches.
The move came after Gov. Eric Greitens announced more than $250 million in spending reductions, including $4 million for assessment funding, for the fiscal year that began in July. Greitens said the cuts were necessary because of lagging state revenues and rising health care costs.
Lee’s Summit emailed families in late August that the district would cover the ACT cost, estimated at $74,000. The district said it would not require the optional writing portion that had been part of the state-administered tests and will offer the four required subject tests – English, math, reading and science.
Other EJC districts report they will not be funding ACT testing but still encourage students to take the test at least once. Independence and Blue Springs will continue to offer test preparation programs, and Blue Springs said financial assistance will be available for students in need.
When students or their families pay, the test costs $45 them, or $61.50 for the version with the optional writing portion.
Fort Osage spokesperson Stephanie Smith said the district likely will offer a similar reimbursement program. Funding the full cost of testing, she said, “is cost prohibitive for us at this time.”
ISD spokesperson Jana Corrie said the district will still offer a testing day, but students will be responsible for paying.
Grain Valley Deputy Superintendent Brad Welle said the district has no plans to fund ACT testing at this time, but it does pay for other assessments to help students with college and career readiness and will continue to do so.
Columbia added $55,000 to its testing budget to cover the ACT testing expense, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said in an email to district leadership.
Kim Presko, principal at Battle High School, told The Columbia Daily Tribune that the district's decision helps students financially and reduces anxiety on test day.
"Many of our juniors wouldn't take the test if we couldn't help them pay for it," she said. "And it's such a high stakes test for so many of our kids to be able to reach their dreams of getting into college."
St. Louis district spokesman Patrick Wallace said the school system will pay for the test for all juniors and some seniors. The district paid for the tests before the state began to pay, he said.
In Springfield, the state's second-largest district behind St. Louis, the school board is expected to make a decision this month on paying for the testing. If approved, the move is expected to cost at least $76,000 for the English, math, reading and science test and up to $105,000 if the optional writing portion is included, the Springfield News-Leader reports.