- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Thirty Alabama high schools will be added to a statewide initiative to help more students take Advanced Placement courses.

Gov. Robert Bentley and the Alabama Department of Education announced plans for expanding the state’s A+ College Ready Program on Tuesday.

The program’s newest additions bring the total number of participating Alabama high schools from 118 to 148.

“This is a program that I think is so important, especially for those students who may be in underserved schools but for those who are preparing themselves to have advanced education in the state of Alabama,” Bentley said.

A+ College Ready is a public-private partnership that began in 2008 with a $13.2 million grant from the National Math and Science Initiative.

Bentley is seeking to add $1 million for the program in the state’s 2015-2016 Education Trust Fund budget. That would bring the total program cost to $5.27 million.

A+ College Ready President Mary Boehm said the new schools would be able to fully participate only if additional funding is approved.

The governor’s office said Alabama ranks first in the nation for percent increases on AP qualifying exam scores in math, science and English. Bentley says even students who don’t take the AP test still are more prepared for college after taking an AP course.

One of the schools being added is Park Crossing High School in Montgomery. Rocky Smith, the school’s principal, said it’s sometimes easy for administrators to focus on failing schools. However, he said it’s also important to focus on high-achieving students.

“Without promoting the advanced curriculum, we would certainly lose a lot of the momentum that we’ve had in the past few years,” Smith said.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice said the expansion would create dozens more AP classes next year for more than 2,000 more students. The additional funding would also allow 10,000 students to take more rigorous classes that prepare them for AP courses.

Bice said he’s calculated the return on investment to be 7-to-1, dollar for dollar.

“Of all the initiatives we currently have going here at the state Department of Education, this public-private partnership with A+ College ready is probably … the most successful, when you look at return on investment,” Bice said.

Boehm said Alabama families whose students have received AP qualifying test scores have saved more than $35 million in tuition costs during the eight years of the program.

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