Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2002-03 Budget Bill

Governor's Distinguished Math and Science Scholars Program

We recommend that the Legislature eliminate the Governor's Distinguished Math and Science Scholars Program because the program does not create additional incentive for California's highest achieving students. We further recommend that the Legislature delete $14 million provided for the program from the General Fund (Reduce Item 0954-101-0001 by $14 million).

Chapter 404, Statutes of 2000 (SB 1688, Polanco), established the Governor's Distinguished Mathematics and Science Scholars Program to provide $2,500 scholarships to approximately 2,400 students achieving high scores on advance placement (AP) tests in calculus, biology, chemistry, or physics. Specifically, a student must (1) score a 5 on the "calculus AB" test or a 4 or 5 on the "calculus BC" test, and (2) score a 5 on either the biology, chemistry or physics test in order to be eligible for the scholarship. Chapter 734, Statutes of 2001 (AB 804, Committee on Education), expanded eligibility for the program to students (1) who took AP tests prior to January 1, 2000 and otherwise met test score criteria, and (2) achieving at equivalent levels on an International Baccalaureate test. The Department of Finance estimates that this expansion in eligibility will increase the cost of the program by $8 million in 2002-03. To meet this cost increase, the 2002-03 Budget Bill appropriates $14 million from the General Fund (non-Proposition 98) to the Scholarshare Investment Board, $8 million more than in the 2001-02 Budget Act.

The stated intent of the program is to encourage high school students to pursue rigorous course work leading to careers in scientific fields. We question whether this program has much of an effect in this regard, since the likeliest scholarship recipients already are highly motivated. Generally, students who receive high scores on both an AP calculus test and an AP science test receive credit for the college-equivalent classes. The college credits can accelerate a college student's graduation date, which can result in significant savings to the student in the cost of higher education. In addition, colleges generally consider student performance in AP courses and on their AP exams when making admission decisions. Thus, high school students already have strong incentives to take AP courses and to excel on AP tests.

These scholarship recipients represent approximately the top seven-tenths of 1 percent of the state's high school students. These students generally receive other scholarships from public and private sources based upon their achievement. The $2,500 scholarships under this program—targeted to students who already are bound to the best universities and in line for other scholarships—are a low pay-off investment of General Fund monies. In view of the above, we recommend that the Legislature enact legislation to eliminate the Distinguished Math and Science Scholars program and use the $14 million for other legislative priorities.

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