SANTA FE — Starting next year, New Mexico high-school students could see an increased menu of elective classes but a reduction in the total number of units required to graduate, under a proposal decisively approved by the House on Wednesday.
House members voted 64-3 to approve the bipartisan measure, House Bill 126, after backers argued it would give more flexibility to students and school districts alike.
“We have so many students that are disengaged as they get to the high school level, and we need to reengage them,” said. Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, a high school teacher and co-sponsor of the bill.
The proposal would overhaul New Mexico’s high school graduation requirements for the first time since 2007, Romero said, by reducing the number of credit units required to graduate from 24 to 22 units. A similar bill passed the House two years ago but stalled in a Senate committee.
It won broad support Wednesday after supporters tacked on two amendments — one adding personal financial literacy as a core part of social sciences and the other stipulating that Algebra II still be offered, even though it would no longer be required for graduation.
House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, who is also sponsoring the legislation, pushed back against previous criticism it represents an attempt to “dumb down” public education in New Mexico.
“What it does is it frees up some flexibility in a students’ calendar” to pursue electives and career technical programs, Lane said.
Specifically, the bill would require four elective units for high school graduation, which could include non-English language classes, fine arts, military career preparation, financial literacy and computer science.
In addition, Romero said local school districts would be able to decide whether to add additional graduation requirements on top of the state’s minimum requirements.
“I think we have a thoroughly vetted bill that is very rigorous for students,” he said in an interview after Wednesday’s vote.
The three representatives who cast “no” votes were Reps. John Block, R-Alamogordo, Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, and Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque.