House committee approves plan to rework New Mexico’s graduation requirements

House committee approves plan to rework New Mexico’s graduation requirements

At the Roundhouse Monday, state lawmakers discussed a new plan to rework New Mexico's high school graduation requirements.

SANTA FE, N.M. — At the Roundhouse Monday, state lawmakers discussed a new plan to rework New Mexico’s high school graduation requirements.

New Mexico’s graduation rate is sitting around 76% – almost ten points lower than the national average.

State Reps. G. Andrés Romero and Ryan Lane are hoping to turn that around by making the state’s graduation requirements more reflective of the real world, and giving students more power over their academic outcome.

“At a time when student attendance is very low, we’re trying to re-engage students by emphasizing student choice in every single subject that is required,” said Romero, who is a high school teacher. “When students are engaged, they’re ready, they’re more prepared, they’re willing to engage with the classes that they have.”

The plan is focused on student flexibility. High schoolers would still need 24 credits to graduate, including four years of English, math, and social studies, and three years of science.

Romero says it would be up to students to decide on how to earn those credits.

“In each of those subjects, students will be able to choose at least a class that is of interest to them,” Romero said. “We’re also emphasizing career technical education throughout the bill, so students that are college bound, or maybe college bound, can pursue that pathway. And students that may be on a career pathway can also do that, or they can experiment with both.

There would be some other requirements, including a new personal financial literacy section folded into the social studies requirements, and a health class that would cover sexual abuse and assault.

However, Algebra II would no longer be required, but schools would still need to offer it.

“We’ve seen that the universities in New Mexico have not had it as a requirement for entry,” Romero said. “And the tests that students take are aligned primarily through Algebra I.”

That idea of flexibility also extends to the school districts, who would get to decide on two credit requirements for their students.

“It’s that local flexibility, local control. We’re letting school districts decide what electives, how many, what’s best for kids at the local level,” said Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico.

The Public Education Department, Albuquerque Public Schools, and several other districts are fully supporting House Bill 171 – a sign that lawmakers are on the right track.

“When I hear superintendents, school board, teachers, practitioners, educators, the whole, like, educational ecosystem turn out in support of something, that signals to me, we’re on the right page, we’re doing the right thing,” Holland said.

State lawmakers tried reworking the graduation requirements last year, but the bipartisan proposal was pocket vetoed by the governor.

Rep. Romero suggested that’s because last year’s version lowered the total number of credits needed to graduate down to 22, while this year’s version keeps it at 24.

HB 171 unanimously cleared the House Education Committee Monday morning.

Also, a Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Monday to implement a new 10-hour training requirement for new school board members. They would have to review things like ethics, public school financing, open meeting guidelines, and other relevant topics before getting to work.

“From the union point of view, the school, school board ratifies and negotiates contracts, they direct the negotiating team on what’s important, and they have the fate of our educators in their hands if they approve and ratify a contract,” Holland said. “And if they come to that with no training, and no point of reference, no idea of the context of the whole thing, that’s really alarming to us.”

That bill would also require school board meetings to be webcast online, and limit freshly-elected boards from firing superintendents right away.