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Bipartisan support moves PE bill forward

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A bill that says marching band and JROTC should count for physical education credit, introduced by Rio Rancho Republican lawmakers Sen. Craig Brandt and Rep. Jason Harper, received the endorsement this week of at least one Senate committee controlled by Democrats.

Leighann Lenti, deputy secretary at the New Mexico Public Education Department, said PED and a number of school districts supported the measure during a committee hearing on Monday. It received a unanimous “do-pass” vote from committee members.

“We were very comfortable with what came out of the Senate Education committee,” Lenti said.

She said districts that testified called for “local control around this issue to determine what best meets the needs of their students in meeting graduation requirements.”

Brandt and Harper are backing the bill in response to PED’s announcement last year that students no longer would be able to substitute marching band and JROTC to fulfill the unit of PE required for graduation.

Last month, PED granted school districts waivers, so upperclassmen could receive PE credit for marching band and JROTC classes, as well as sports, they had taken.

At press time, the bill was on the agenda for the Senate Public Affairs Committee, which planned to hear the legislation late Tuesday.

Brandt said he expects bill to receive a vote on the Senate floor before the end of this week.

In a related development, there appears to be a growing sense in Rio Rancho and the Roundhouse that any changes to the course and credit requirements for high school graduation should apply only to future graduating classes, and not to current juniors and seniors.

Brandt said he knows a Rio Rancho family whose son, a senior in high school, dropped out of AP calculus and took PE instead, after he heard PED would no longer accept marching band for PE credit.

State Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales and chair of the Senate Education Committee, is expected to sponsor with Brandt and Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, another bill that would set some limits on any future changes to high school graduation requirements.

The proposal, as Brandt described it, would lock in the courses and credits required for graduation for current high school students and restrict any further changes so they applied only to future classes of freshmen.

The graduation requirements bill also would ensure that once a class counts as PE credit, it would always count as PE credit, even if a student transfers to a different district in the state, Brandt said.

Brandt said he and his co-sponsors would introduce the bill before today’s deadline for new legislation. He said he hopes the governor and legislative leaders will accept the measure and help it move quickly through the committee process.

The bill would make high school graduation requirements similar to college graduation requirements, Brandt said. College students who major in a subject and pursue it full-time have an assurance the courses they have to complete will not change before they graduate.

“We would welcome a clarification in the law that changes to graduation requirements (would) not affect students currently enrolled in high school but would take effect with the incoming freshmen,” RRPS spokeswoman Kim Vesely said.

Vesely pointed to the state’s 2007 High School Redesign bill as a precedent.

She said that bill preserved course and credit requirements for current students and applied new requirements to students who would attend high school in future years.

The graduation requirements bill before this year’s legislative session would affect only courses and credits, Brandt said. The authority to determine testing requirements and what counts as competency (in the five areas) for graduation would likely remain in the hands of PED.