November 14, 2023

Castro, Booker Introduce Bicameral Bill to Expand Advanced Coursework Opportunities for Underrepresented Students

WASHINGTON – Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Senator Cory Booker (NJ) introduced the Advanced Coursework Equity Act, bicameral legislation that would create a federal grant program to help states and school districts increase the enrollment of underrepresented students in advanced coursework and academic programs. The Advanced Coursework Equity Act would allow eligible schools and school districts to receive up to $60 million to implement universal screening for advanced students, expand enrollment in advanced courses, cover course fees for low-income students, train or hire teachers for advanced courses, prepare students for postsecondary STEM pathways, and create or expand related efforts.

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 these courses. 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.

“When I got to Stanford in the fall of 1992, I met students who racked up dozens of college credits through advanced coursework before they ever stepped foot on campus. In the mostly Latino and low-income San Antonio neighborhoods where I grew up, few students had the same chance to prepare for college success,” said Congressman Castro. “While remarkable talent exists in every school and community, equal opportunity does not. I’m proud to work with Senator Booker and our coalition partners to introduce this important piece of legislation, which will help schools identify and support brilliant students with the rigorous coursework they deserve.”

“Black, Latino, and Native American students face structural barriers that often prevent them from  taking advantage of advanced courses and programs,” said Sen. Booker. “We know that gifted and talented programs as well as advanced coursework in high school can change life trajectories. By expanding enrollment of underrepresented students in advanced courses and covering exam fees, we can ensure that more young people are able to realize their full potential.” 

The Advanced Coursework Equity Act would authorize $800 million in grants up to $60 million over three years to address equity gaps in enrollment and performance in advanced programs and courses through efforts including:

•                 Implementing open enrollment, universal screening for all advanced courses and programs. 

•                 Expanding enrollment in advanced courses and programs, including by launching new courses. 

•                 Purchasing curriculum and materials for advanced courses & covering course fees of low-income students. 

•                 Provide direct services, such as tutoring.

•                 Training or hiring teachers to teach advanced courses.

•                 Implement programs and activities to improve student preparation and participation in postsecondary STEM pathways.

The Advanced Coursework Equity Act is supported by The Education Trust, Latinos for Education, the National Association for Gifted Children, the National Urban League, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the College Board, E3 Alliance, Advanced CTE, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, All4ED, and the Council for Exceptional Children.

The full text of the bill is available here.

“Despite the growing importance of STEM education for students’ long-term success in college and career, millions of students, particularly Black and Latino students, face systemic barriers accessing advanced courses in middle and high school,” said Denise Forte, president, and CEO of EdTrust. “Our research is clear: Black and Latino students are successful in advanced coursework when given the opportunity. However, myriad obstacles, including resource inequities and educator bias, prevent these students from enrolling in advanced classes, such as eighth grade Algebra, dual enrollment, advanced placement, and international baccalaureate coursework. Oftentimes, schools that serve Black and Latino students and those from low-income backgrounds do not even offer these courses. The Advanced Coursework Equity Act, led by Senator Cory Booker and Congressman Joaquin Castro, is essential legislation that would help address these barriers by increasing the enrollment and supporting the performance of underrepresented students in advanced courses. Ed Trust is proud to endorse this legislation. We urge Congress to advance this bill immediately and make real the promise of education equity for our nation’s most underserved students,” said Denise Forte, president and CEO of The Education Trust.

“Latino students make up nearly 30 percent of our student population and will shape our nation’s economy and workforce for generations to come. Therefore, it is an economic imperative to provide them with equitable access to rigorous courses that prepare them for college and successful careers in teaching and other professions,” said Amanda Fernandez, CEO and Founder of Latinos for Education. “Advanced coursework like early college and dual enrollment classes increase the likelihood that students will enroll in and complete college, yet too few Latino students are given the opportunity to participate in these courses. The Advanced Coursework Equity Act will help school districts and states increase Latino enrollment in advanced coursework and make college more attainable for Latinos.”

“Every student in America deserves a quality public school where they can access knowledge and opportunity, and grow academically, socially and emotionally. But as long as advanced course exams and materials are locked up behind high fees, that opportunity will be restricted to certain tax brackets. Access to advanced courses should not be cost-prohibitive because it sabotages our kids’ development and goes against the foundational idea of free public education. Rep. Castro’s and Senator Booker’s Advanced Coursework Equity Act will ensure that all students have access to advanced courses, regardless of whether they or their families can afford the cost of exams and materials. It will also equip more students with real solutions to tackle learning loss, loneliness and literacy challenges, including STEM skills. And it will help schools hire, train and retain diverse educators, school counselors and school staff, and engage parents and families in the daily work to help all students succeed, both in school and beyond,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“Providing opportunities for all students to take and benefit from advanced courses, regardless of their socioeconomic status or zip code, is a strong step forward on the path towards equity in our nation's schools. NAGC is proud to support this critical piece of equity-centered legislation that will help ensure any student who wants to challenge themselves with rigorous coursework can,” said John Segota, Executive Director of the National Association for Gifted Children.  

“College Board strongly supports the Advanced Coursework Equity Act and its commitment to increasing access to advanced courses for underrepresented students. The bill will ensure that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to take rigorous courses and earn college credit while in high school, setting them on a path to success,” said Michelle Arnold, Vice President of Government Relations & Advocacy at The College Board.

“E3 Alliance research has found that students who take four years of math in high school are twice as likely to get a postsecondary credential, such as a certificate or degree. Students whose fourth year of math is a college-aligned course are six times as likely to get a postsecondary credential, driving economic mobility for the next generation. This is especially true for students from communities that are traditionally marginalized, with math success paving the way for higher-paying jobs that require a postsecondary credential. Congressman Castro and Senator Booker’s bill, which promotes equity in advanced coursework and programs at elementary and secondary schools, is a bold step forward for our education system. It is a policy based on evidence, equity and opportunity. It is a policy that will help ensure that all students have the chance to reach their full potential and pave the way for economic mobility across the United States,” said Jennifer Cavazos Saenz, Senior Director, Communications and Policy at the E3 Alliance.

"Every learner deserves access to experiences that provide pathways to in-demand fields and opportunities to jumpstart preparation for postsecondary education. Advance CTE supports the Advanced Coursework Equity Act's intentional focus on providing the resources necessary to make this a reality for schools and districts that need it the most. These elements are essential to remove barriers for marginalized learners to access early postsecondary opportunities which are a hallmark of high-quality Career Technical Education programs, and we thank Representative Castro and Senator Booker for their leadership on this legislation,” said Kate Kreamer, Executive Director of Advanced CTE.

"Chronic low expectations have a detrimental impact on access to advanced coursework resulting in much fewer opportunities for students with disabilities. All students should have access to high quality coursework that can help propel them to success after high school regardless of their disability status. NCLD commends Rep. Castro and Sen. Booker for their leadership in reintroducing the Advanced Coursework Equity Act to support states and districts to implement strategies to address these inequities," said Lindsay Kubatzky, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD).