After budget cuts, the state of Missouri will no longer pay for high school juniors to take the ACT.
This means area high schools are faced with a choice: Foot the bill, or let students pay their own way.
According to information from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state paid for ACT administration in 2016 and 2017.
While taking the ACT isn't a federal or state requirement, many colleges require ACT results in their applications and some academic scholarships require an ACT score.
The budget signed by Gov. Eric Greitens in July cut $4 million from the state assessment budget.
"Missouri cannot fund the 11th-grade census administration of the ACT in 2018," DESE standards and assessment administrator Lisa Sireno said.
There are a limited number of fee waivers available for students who meet income requirements, but ACT documents state once those run out, future waiver requests will be denied. The test costs $46, or $62.50 for students opting to take the writing portion as well.
With early ACT test dates coming soon, high schools must decide how to handle the situation.
Area schools respond
Fulton Public Schools addressed the ACT funding issue at Wednesday evening's board of education meeting.
In the meeting packet, Superintendent Jacque Cowherd recommended the district approve offering the ACT to juniors who wish to take it, and the ACT WorkKeys test (an assessment that measures workplace skills) to seniors.
"As of Sept. 6 Fulton High School has 175 juniors enrolled," Cowherd said. "If every student elected to take the assessment, the cost would be approximately $8,000."
During the board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Ty Crain said in the years before the ACT was covered by the state, around 30-40 percent of juniors took it annually.
School board member Emily Omoundro emphasized the importance of making sure students understand the need to take the test.
"I don't want to see us offer it and see kids miss out," she said.
Crain said current juniors have been exposed to the ACT throughout their high school years and should understand the importance. He suggested a higher rate would opt to take it than in the past.
The board voted to have the district pay for juniors to take the ACT and continue to work with the Callaway County Court to provide ACT WorkKeys.
"We're not committing to multiple years of this," Cowherd said. "This is just to fill in the gap."
South Callaway R-2 Superintendent Kevin Hillman said his district will cover the ACT for South Callaway juniors this year.
"It's frustrating sometimes when these mandates come down for schools and they change, or they're funded and then they're unfunded," he said. "I understand what happens with budgets and everything, but it's frustrating with the planning we do with our kids."
He said the district scheduled a testing day in the spring, which will go ahead as planned.
"We'll pay for it this year, but we're having discussions about what to do for the future," Hillman said.
He added not all students need to take the ACT. For example, some students end up going to a technical school that may not require an ACT score. However, test access is important to those planning to attend college.
Hillman also pointed out an additional issue the change in funding poses for schools. Part of the report card DESE issues to districts involves college and career readiness, which is determined in part by looking at testing scores.
"Schools are required to have something taken by all students," he said.
Hillman said previously, many schools used the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, because it's free and gives vocational information.
"Every student would have the ASVAB and every student would have something else depending on what their need is," he said.
New Bloomfield R-3 will also cover the cost for its juniors, provided they meet certain conditions.
"We've had some long conversations about this, because we see the importance of the ACT for our kids," Superintendent Sarah Wisdom said.
During last month's board meeting, she said, leaders in the district worked out a solution. As usual, the high school will have an ACT preparation course in the weeks leading up to the test. The school plans on hosting the test in April.
"Students can apply for reimbursement if they've done (the prep course and test)," Wisdom said.
She said the district will cover the basic ACT and the test including the written portion.
Currently, North Callaway R-1 won't be covering the ACT for all juniors.
"Our free and reduced lunch students can get a waiver through ACT for the ACT to be paid for," said Christine Harper, assistant principal at North Callaway High School.
She said the school counselor, Melissa Head, will help students apply for those waivers.
The high school plans on hosting an ACT test date during the school week, though a date hasn't yet been set.
"We would open it up to any junior who wanted to take it, but (if not qualified for a waiver) they would have to pay for it themselves," Harper said.
She said news of the funding cut left the district scrambling. The district is still exploring options to help fund other students, Harper added.