JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Several Missouri 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 St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia districts are among those that will pay for the testing. 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.
Columbia responded by adding $55,000 to the 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.
When students or their families pay, the test costs $45 them, or $61.50 for the version with the optional writing portion, the newspaper reported.
Amy St. John, director of performance analytics for the Springfield district, said the statewide push was designed to level the playing field for students who skipped the test because they didn’t have the time, money, transportation or initiative to sign up.