SANTA FE — Graduates, you may now move your tassels.
Just days after House Bill 171 cleared the second chamber of the Roundhouse, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it on Friday, codifying New Mexico’s new graduation requirements for high schoolers into law.
Aside from the annual feed bill, an administrative measure to pay for legislative expenses, HB 171 is the first piece of legislation to fully clear the Roundhouse this year.
The last time lawmakers overhauled graduation requirements, according to a bill analysis, was in 2007. HB 171, which provides more choice to students in the courses they take while keeping the minimum number of units to graduate at 24, will take effect for students entering their freshman year in 2025-2026.
“I’m very pleased to be signing this bill,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference. “… This modernizes graduation requirements.”
Last year, a similar version of HB 171 passed both chambers but was vetoed by Lujan Grisham, who cited in part that version’s cutting of two units for graduation from the current 24.
When asked what changed in HB 171 that allowed her to sign off this year, Lujan Grisham cited the “clarity about the number of credits, clarity that the career-technical education components are squarely in and … description about how we do financial literacy.”
HB 171 faced significant debate at just about every level of the Roundhouse, much of which was centered on some advocates’ arguments that financial literacy should be a stand-alone requirement.
The bill allows students to take financial literacy to fulfill a number of units, requires all high schools to offer it and embeds the subject in a mandated government and economics course.
Even so, financial literacy advocates argued the topic was too important to be wedged into another course and introduced amendments to require such a class.
“This isn’t like, ‘I took philosophy back in the day, and I think every student should take it,’ ” Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said during a Wednesday debate on a Senate floor amendment. “… This is a fundamental skill that every single student … should have.”
While proponents of the bill agreed on the importance of financial literacy, they also argued that each new requirement makes graduation more onerous for students and that if students want a stand-alone course, they can take one.
Mandela International Magnet School sophomore Elise Gonzales is one of those students. After high school, she hopes to be a public defender, but she feels she needs to learn about how to manage her finances to make that happen.
“I’m glad that they’re doing financial literacy courses,” she said. “Education is so expensive … so I’m glad we’re working on financial literacy.”
In a written statement, Think New Mexico Executive Director Fred Nathan Jr. said that while the think tank is disappointed the bill didn’t include a stand-alone financial literacy course, it “plans to reach out to the school boards and superintendents in the state’s 89 school districts to encourage them to select financial literacy as one of their local credits.”
While much of the framework is in place for the classes New Mexico’s new graduation standards afford, Education Secretary Arsenio Romero said the New Mexico Public Education Department is also beginning work with the state’s schools to help them “take full advantage of what’s available to them when it comes to the flexibility within the bill.”
New Mexico’s updated graduation requirements
- Four units of English, the last of which could be more flexible, such as journalism course;
- Four units of math, two of which must generally be Algebra I and Geometry, but the rest of which appear to be flexible and could be fulfilled by such courses as financial literacy;
- Three units of science, two of which must have a laboratory component and the other which can be more geared toward things such as work-based learning;
- Four units of social science, which include U.S. history and geography, government, economics and financial literacy, and world history and geography. The final unit is also flexible and can include such things as psychology or ethnic studies;
- Five and a half units of electives, which vary wildly, and also can include financial literacy courses as well as computer science and career-technical education courses;
- Two courses set by the local school district or governing board;
- One unit of physical education, which can include courses in things such as dance and marching band;
- And half a unit in health.