Maine is increasing funding and expanding courses for a program that provides free online Advanced Placement courses to students who can’t get them at their local high school.

“I firmly believe that it’s a very, very important program,” said Dave Patterson, who oversees AP4ALL for the state Department of Education. The department is currently accepting applications for this fall.

This year, there are about 200 students in the 17 AP courses. Next year the state will offer 21 courses and could have as many as 420 students enrolled.

The budget increased from $136,900 this year to $198,160 for 2013-14.

Patterson said AP4ALL was initially funded from 2007 to 2010 with federal money, but went on hiatus for a year when that money ran out. Then the state relaunched it at the urging of the Legislature’s Education Committee.

The courses are all taught by Maine teachers, who are paid an extra $5,000 a year. Books and materials are lent to students and returned. The department pays a small stipend to an in-school mentor for students. The mentor monitors students’ progress and keeps them on track.

In 2011-12, the online AP students outperformed Maine students taking the courses at their local high schools. Patterson said 76 percent of the AP4ALL students got a 3 or better on the AP exam, out of a possible 5 points, compared with 64 percent of classroom AP students. Nationally, 59 percent of students got a 3 or above.

Patterson said the teachers are given broad leeway to use whatever tools they need to conduct their class.

One AP world history teacher hosts regular meetings in Google Hangout, and an AP calculus teacher who needs lots of graphics uses iTunes U. Some use Facebook, others Skype or online chat.

“There’s a lot of positives with that approach,” Patterson said. “We ask them what they are trying to accomplish.”

For more complex lectures, students benefit because they can rewind and watch the lecture “as much as they need to.”

Maine students take about 4,000 AP exams every year, according to The College Board, which tracks exams but not the number of students enrolled in AP courses.

For more information or to register, go to www.ap4all.org. Priority is given to students in public schools, but home-schooled students may participate if they are registered through a local school.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com