Nearly 1,000 school districts, county offices of education and charter schools across California will share $200 million in state grants as part of an effort to prepare more high school students for college, state officials announced Wednesday.

Educators will use the money from the College Readiness Block Grant Program to pay for students’ Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate examination fees, expand counseling services, expand the number of college preparation courses and purchase instructional materials that support college readiness.

The goal of the funding is to increase the number of students – especially English learners, low-income students and foster youth – who enroll in colleges and universities and complete an undergraduate degree in four years, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said.

“Every student should have a chance to attend college,” he said in a statement. “These grants provide funds for expanding our students’ access and improving their readiness for higher education. I am pleased to support an investment that gives our students the right tools to prepare for and succeed in higher education.”

The grants range from $75,000 given to about 650 districts, charters and county offices of education to $16.9 million awarded to Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district.

Funding for the program comes from Senate Bill 828, approved by lawmakers in June.

Torlakson said schools could use the money to send teachers, counselors and administrators to professional development opportunities related to college readiness. Schools can also expand programs that allow juniors to take the college entrance exams for free. Already, about a dozen school districts allow all their juniors to take the SAT or ACT at no cost.

“Every student should have a chance to attend college. These grants provide funds for expanding our students’ access and improving their readiness for higher education,” said state Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

To become eligible, districts, charters and county offices of education had to submit a plan to the state for how they would help more students become college ready.

With its grant, L.A. Unified will add high school counselors, supplement college planning tools and develop college centers, said Frances Gipson, the district’s chief academic officer.

The district will use the grant, Gipson said, in combination with existing initiatives, such as efforts to help every graduate complete the A-G sequence, the 15 courses required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems, and the new L.A. College Promise, which is planned to provide high school graduates, starting in 2017, with one free year of tuition at a Los Angeles community college.

Students at Millikan High in Long Beach review practice SAT  materials as they prepare for the college admissions process.

FERMIN LEAL/EDSOURCE TODAY

Students at Millikan High in Long Beach review practice SAT materials as they prepare for the college admissions process.

The grants will be awarded in two installments, with $100 million distributed in coming weeks and the other $100 million allocated next spring.

The grant program is the state’s latest investment in college and career readiness initiatives launched in recent years.

Since 2014, the state has awarded nearly $1.5 billion to help boost the number of career technical education programs at California campuses. They include the nearly $500 million Career Pathways Trust, awarded to 79 school districts, county offices of education, community colleges and charter schools, and the $900 million Career Technical Education Incentive Grants, given to nearly 300 schools and agencies.

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