Feb 16, 2011

Fairfax County will Likely Refund AP Test Fees

A recent ruling delivered by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is likely to result in Advanced Placement (AP) exam fee refunds for Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) families.

According to FCPS spokesman Paul Regnier, “Superintendent Jack Dale will present a plan to the Board at the March meeting that will recommend either refunding all AP test fees collected this year or declaring the test 'not required'.”

In one of several recent rulings, Attorney General Cuccinelli issued an official advisory opinion that no state law currently permits schools to impose AP fees.

In response to a question from Senator David Marsden, Cuccinelli wrote, “It is my opinion that a local school board cannot impose a mandatory fee on students taking advanced placement courses for the required taking of the Advanced Placement Examination.”

Cuccinelli noted, “Because the Advanced Placement Examination test is the required end-of-course examination, it cannot reasonably be viewed as a service or program for which a fee may be levied.”

Beginning this school year, FCPS implemented a number of school-based fees designed to make up for lost revenues in the school budget. Among these was the $75 charged to students taking AP exams, all of which is paid directly to the College Board.

In 2010, 15,439 FCPS students took 32,230 Advanced Placement exams. Refunds for the 2011 exams would cost the school system about $2 million.

The Cuccinelli ruling sent several local Virginia school systems scrambling to determine whether their fees are in compliance. FCSP Superintendent Dale’s decision to possibly refund fees will come with a further recommendation for the Board to examine future policies governing AP fees.

“There are two choices,” said Regnier. “The Board can go back to the previous policy of paying all AP fees or they can go back to an earlier policy of not paying fees and not requiring students to take the exam.”

FCPS students are currently required to take AP exams in order to earn an extra 1.0 GPA “weight” allowed for AP courses. The extra weight appears on college transcripts and is considered very advantageous for college-bound students.

If the county is unable to come up with the funds to pay back the fees, then the Board may act to remove the test requirement for this year. Parent leaders, however, feel this option is very unlikely. In fact, announcements have been made at several area high schools indicating that families should expect the refunds by the end of the school year.

Neighboring Loudoun County is also trying to figure out how the ruling will affect its policy.

“Our requirements are different because we don’t require that you take the exam unless you want the grade-point boost of the AP course—then it’s required,” said Loudoun County school board chair John Stevens.

Stevens thinks the Cuccinelli ruling is probably right. Loudoun County adopted the policy, like Fairfax, in response to a deepening budget crisis. It’s saved millions of dollars and “enabled the district to avoid cutting jobs.”

In the meantime, legislation sponsored by Delegate Kay Kory to prohibit local school boards from charging fees for both the AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests was defeated in the Virginia House Education Committee.

“I strongly believe that charging fees for AP and IB tests is the same as charging for enrollment in the course,” Kory commented. “I do not think it is fair to balance the budget on the backs of disadvantaged students.

The FCPS Board will meet on March 14 to discuss Superintendent Dale’s recommendations. Changes in policy for the 2011-12 school year will be considered during budget negotiations in May.


  1. While I am all for getting a refund ($400!), I was under the impression that, in Loudoun at least, the tests were not required to complete the course actually, but only if you wanted the extra GPA boost the course would offer. Just one more reason why I hate everything about the AP "trap" college-bounnd kids find themselves in today...

  2. Your impression is correct, so it's likely Loudoun won't be in the refund business. Fairfax is examining that option for next year, but there are all kinds of quirks to that as well.

    You're also right about the AP trap. You can thank at least one local education reporter for baiting the trap...