WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) today introduced a bill that would establish an $800 million competitive grant program for states and school districts to increase the enrollment and performance of underrepresented students in advanced courses and programs. Under the Advanced Coursework Equity Act, eligible states and school districts could receive up to $60 million in grants to do things like expand enrollment in advanced courses, cover the costs of exam fees for low-income students and train and hire teachers to teach advanced courses.

Black, Latino, and Native American students, students from low-income families, English learners, and students with disabilities are underrepresented in advanced programs and courses. While 1 in 10 students in American schools participate in the Advanced Placement (AP) program, just over 1 in 20 low-income, Black, and Native American students participate in AP. Additionally, less than 1 in 50 students with disabilities participate in AP. A low-income student with reading and math achievement levels equal to those of a high-income student is half as likely to receive gifted services as the high-income student.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 threatens to further reduce access to advanced courses and programs for underrepresented students, as budget cuts force districts, especially those in low-income communities, to lay off teachers and eliminate curricular offerings. Over 700,000 additional Black and Latino students would be enrolled in advanced courses and programs if access to these learning opportunities were equitable.

“Our greatest national asset is the genius of our young people, but we are failing to cultivate that genius equally,” said Senator Booker. “It is unacceptable that many students of color and students from low-income families are disproportionately denied the opportunity to access the kind of gifted and talented programs in elementary school and advanced coursework in high school that could change their life trajectories. This bill is an important step toward boosting state and school district efforts to prioritize access and inclusion and ensure that a high quality public education is available to every student and in every community.”

“Expanding advanced coursework offerings at schools predominantly serving underrepresented students is a critical first step to implementing advanced coursework equity,” Senator Booker continued. “Our bill invests in low-income, Black, Latinx, and Native American students, English learners, and students with disabilities, and helps cultivate the genius within them.”

“When my brother and I arrived at Stanford University after attending the public schools on the West Side of San Antonio, a humble and hardworking community of predominately Mexican American families, we encountered students from across the country who had studied in up to a dozen advanced classes before ever entering college,” said Congressman Castro. “Their futures were on an upward trajectory just based on where they lived and the schools they attended. Yet, our mostly Latino and lower-income classmates in Texas did not have the same access to advanced coursework and gifted and talented programs that lead toward upward mobility.”

“We know that while remarkable talents exist in every school and every community, equal opportunity does not,” said Congressman Castro. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Booker that pushes for a vital expansion of advanced coursework offerings for underserved students as well as a strong investment toward equity in education.”

The Advanced Coursework Equity Act would authorize $800 million in grants of up to $60 million to be allocated over 3 years to address equity gaps in enrollment and performance in advanced programs and courses by:

  • Implementing equitable enrollment mechanisms, such as universal screening, for advanced courses and programs
  • Expanding enrollment in advanced courses and programs, including by launching new courses
  • Purchasing curriculum and materials for advanced courses and covering exam fees of low-income studentsTraining or hiring teachers to teach advanced courses

In addition to Senator Booker (D-NJ) the bill is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tina Smith (D-MN)

The legislation has the support of AASA – the School Superintendents Association, the Association for the Gifted, the Council for Exceptional Children, The Education Trust, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the National Association for Gifted Children, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Black Child Development Institute, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the National College Attainment Network, the National Education Association, the New Jersey Association for Gifted Children, SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, UNCF, and UnidosUS.

“Ed Trust’s research continues to show that although Black and Latino students thrive in advanced courses, they are being locked out of these critical opportunities all across the nation,” said John B. King Jr., president and CEO of The Education Trust. “Senator Booker’s bill gives schools the resources to change this by implementing automatic enrollment policies, open enrollment, and universal screening; preparing more educators to teach advanced courses; offering a greater selection of courses; and covering course material and exam fees for students from low-income backgrounds. I encourage the Senate to advance this urgent proposal and make real the promise of educational equity for our nation’s most underserved students.”

“Students with disabilities can achieve at high levels, but far too many fail to receive the supports they need,” said Lindsay Jones, President & CEO, National Center for Learning Disabilities. “Stigma and low expectations hold them back,” said It is no longer enough for students with disabilities to be included in our schools -- they must also have access to the same rigorous courses and high-quality learning opportunities as others. Through Senator Booker's leadership, the Advanced Coursework Equity Act shines a light on the inequities in our schools and incentivizes school leaders to change the status quo so that our most marginalized students have equal opportunities to thrive.”

“UnidosUS is proud to endorse the Advanced Coursework Equity Act which is a critical first step in addressing the major inequities and lack of access to educational opportunities among underrepresented students,” said Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS. “All children deserve equitable access to advanced courses. However, barriers such as race, native language, family income, and disabilities continue to deprive many students of valuable learning tools they need to keep up with their peers. We applaud Sen. Booker for introducing this legislation that would provide critical funding to schools to support underrepresented students to enroll and succeed in advanced courses and programs.”

“Excellence gaps are among our country’s most serious problems. They widen inequality, rob students of their intellectual dignity, and cause serious cultural and economic damage due to lost talent,” said Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D., President of the National Association for Gifted Children and Julian C. Stanley Endowed Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University. “The Advanced Coursework Equity Act helps address these issues by supporting evidence-based interventions such as universal screening and expanded offering of advanced courses. NAGC is grateful for Senator Booker’s leadership on this issue.”

“I strongly and enthusiastically endorse Senator Booker’s Advanced Coursework Equity Act because it holds much promise for increasing access to advanced classes and programs for underrepresented students,” said Dr. Donna Y. Ford, author of Gifted and Advanced Black Students in School, Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students in Gifted Education, and Reversing Underachievement Among Gifted Black Students. “The focus on equity is essential for recruiting and retaining gifted Black, Latino, and low-income students.”

“Sixty-six years after Brown v. Board, segregation between and within schools persists,” said Halley Potter, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation. “Research shows that students of color succeed in A.P. and other advanced classes when given the chance. The Advanced Coursework Equity Act would help give hundreds of thousands of Black, Latino, and Native students access to advanced coursework for the first time, setting them on a pathway to success in college and beyond, and give students of all backgrounds the benefit of learning with and from more racially diverse classmates.”

Full text of the bill is available here.

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