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House bill requiring post-graduation plan for high school diploma advances

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House bill requiring post-graduation plan for diploma advances

By Robert Nott
The New Mexican

Students attending New Mexico’s public schools may have to add one more graduation requirement to their check-off list if a bipartisan bill heading toward the House Education Committee continues to pick up steam.

On Thursday, the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee unanimously agreed to move forward House Bill 23 — sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque — requiring high school students to declare what they plan to do after graduation before they obtain a diploma.

The committee voted to pass the bill along without recommendation, with some members saying the House Education Committee would be better poised to analyze or approve the bill.

The bill gives students an array of post-graduate choices to commit to, even if they don’t end up pursuing them — including applying to college, entering the military, going to work or taking part in an internship program.

This “next-step plan,” as Gentry called it, is based on a similar program the school district in San Marcos, Texas, initiated a few years ago. As a result, Gentry told the committee, college attendance rose among graduates of that district.

The idea, Gentry and Ivey-Soto said, is to encourage students who may not have been considering college to apply to at least one school, with the possibility the application process would draw them into a field of study they may enjoy pursuing.

“If we are going to call ‘commencement’ the start of something, then we have to get them to start thinking about that what something is going to be,” Ivey-Soto said.

Both Gentry and Ivey-Soto said the new requirement does not mean students who declare an interest in joining the military or submitting a college application have to follow through.

Still, some attendees at the committee hearing who opposed the bill suggested it is stepping on the toes of personal freedoms.

“To push students in one direction or another is not just wrong, it’s dangerous,” said Burly Cain, state director of the free-market group Americans for Prosperity-New Mexico.

A man who told the committee he worked in the construction business said he is against the bill because “when I was 17, 18 years old, I had no idea what I wanted to do. … I think most 17- or 18-year-olds have no idea what they want to do.

“It’s outside the proper role of government to mandate such rules,” the man said.

Representatives from a number of school districts, including Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, said their district leaders support the bill. So does Eastern New Mexico University President Jeff Elwell, who said that once students begin a college application, they may “find out what they are qualified for.”

Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said: “Conceptually, it appears to be a good idea, but there will be details that will need to be worked out. Regardless, students with long-term goals tend to do better than those without goals.”

An American Federation of Teachers of New Mexico spokeswoman said the union opposes the bill, which could impose an undue financial burden on impoverished students if the college they apply to charges an application fee.

Charles Bowyer, executive director of the National Education Association, told the committee the union neither supports or opposes the bill.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.

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