WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-TX) today reintroduced 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, the COVID-19 pandemic 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, 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 journeys were on an upward trajectory based on where they lived and the schools they attended. But our mostly Latino, lower-income classmates in Texas did not have equal access to advanced coursework and gifted and talented programs that facilitate a brighter future.”

“While remarkable talents exist in every school and every community, equal opportunity does not,” said Congressman Castro. “I’m proud to introduce this bill with Senator Booker to push for a critical expansion of advanced coursework offerings for underserved students as well as a greater investment in educational equity.”

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 students Training 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), Chris Van-Hollen (D-MD)

The legislation has the support the Council for Exceptional Children, the Association for the Gifted, the Education Trust, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Black Child Development Institute, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Education Association, SPAN Parent Advocacy Network, New Jersey Association for Gifted Children, Donna Y. Ford (Distinguished Professor at Ohio State University), TeachPlus, National Math and Science Initiative, Equal Opportunity Schools, Advance CTE, Jobs for the Future, The College Board, Bard College/Bard Early College, The Alliance for Excellent Education, Middle College National Consortium. 

Full text of the bill is available here.