Limited budget for advanced classes suppress students’ experience

Cameron Morelli, Editor-in-Chief


When thinking of Advanced Placement laboratory science courses, images of extensive lab technology and elaborate experiments often come to mind. With lavish funding, these images often become reality. With limited funding, however, these images often exist as a dream.

AP science courses are required by the College Board to carry out lab experiments on a certain number of topics. For example, AP Biology courses are required to do eight major labs. Depending on the course’s budget, schedule and other factors, AP Biology instructors choose among various choices of labs corresponding to those eight topics. These lab choices vary in expense and require different standards of technology.

Despite AP science courses being required to complete a specific number of labs, Bear Creek’s science department doesn’t set aside extra funds for AP course labs. This lack of funding makes it difficult for AP science teachers to provide their students with more enjoyable and interesting labs in addition to those that are required by the College Board.

Science courses that are not AP have a little more wiggle room regarding lab opportunities since they are not forced to follow the College Board’s lab requirements. Non-AP teachers have more freedom to alter or omit labs on certain topics that aren’t very enjoyable or beneficial to students’ understanding of the topic.

In order to provide more lab opportunities to her students, AP Biology teacher Kim Forbis says she spends $800 to $1,000 out of her own pocket on grocery items and supplies for extra labs that can’t be ordered through the science department.

“I make sure that I get my purchase orders in at the beginning of the year and we get everything we need for those eight required ones, but the class would be a lot more boring [if I didn’t invest my own money] because that would be it,” Forbis said. “You wouldn’t have little extra more fun things to do.”

AP Chemistry teacher Steffi Terrill says that materials for chemistry labs don’t need to be replaced each year.

“I think [lab kits are] a bad way to spend money in chemistry,” Terrill said. “I just mix up the chemicals myself.”

However, lab materials for AP Biology labs often consist of living organisms and other substances that must be replaced each year.

“Most of the stuff that the science department purchases for AP Bio is disposable,” Forbis said. “We use them up every year and they have to be rebought.”

In addition, the more students that enroll in AP science courses, the more lab kits and supplies need to be purchased in order for the course to fulfill the certain number of required labs, leaving less money to replace damaged equipment.

Overflowing classes or multiple sections of an AP science course cause the money invested by teachers such as Forbis to be disbursed more sparsely among the large number of students. Although a rising enrollment in AP science courses is a good thing, it also means that those students will have fewer lab opportunities due to the limited budget.

Due to this limited budget, there is often little money left over at the end of the year for science teachers to purchase or replace machinery such as electronic balances that can cost around $800.

“I only have two electronic balances when I really should have a class set of eight,” Forbis said. “I only have five of the vernier computers and interfaces when I should have eight or 10. I have to slowly build up the supply of those whenever there’s extra money in the budget. It has taken me eight years to get just five of the vernier sensors and everything we need to do some of the required labs.”

Forbis allocates the budget for her classes more concentratedly among labs that are the most educationally beneficial and enjoyable for her students.

“I could spend more money on other labs, but I tend to do those cheaper because I don’t think they are as exciting for kids,” Forbis said. “I kind of pick and choose where the most expensive labs are and where I cheap out on some labs.”

“I am a very visual and hands-on learner, so labs help me a lot,” AP Biology student Kiara Cuerpo-Hadsall said. “More elaborate labs would only benefit my learning experience. I appreciate what Mrs. Forbis contributes to make labs available for this class.”

Although Bear Creek’s lab equipment may seem simple compared to the lab equipment at other, more heavily funded schools, students can still adequately learn using simpler lab techniques.

“We may not have as many opportunities to use cooler equipment, but I don’t think it affects our opportunities for college or that sort of stuff,” Cuerpo-Hadsall said. “We just may not be able to experience the subject in the way that other schools are able to. I guess we’ll have that opportunity in college.”