New high school graduation requirements head to the governor’s desk

Senators narrowly rejected an amendment to break out a required financial literacy coursework

By: - February 8, 2024 3:03 am

The Senate Chambers inside the Roundhouse on Jan. 10, 2024. (Photo by Anna Padilla for Source NM)

Update: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.

A bill updating high school graduation requirements for New Mexico students passed the state senate floor in a 40-0 vote, and is now headed to the governor’s desk. It’s the second bill passed by both chambers this session.

An amendment on the bill that wanted to require a standalone semester of financial literacy for students to graduate failed by a narrow margin of 19-22 after debate on the floor. The vote colored outside of party lines, with both Republicans and Democrats voting on either side of the measure.

House Bill 171 updates the standards and courses that determine if students can graduate from a New Mexico high school. This includes:

  • Removing the aptitude test and adding an additional semester of social sciences requirements.
  • Charter schools or school districts must determine two units of the 24 units required for graduation.
  • State education officials will have to put out rules to local districts about revising course offerings.
  • The law would allow electives in Career Technical Education, internships or project-based classes to count towards core requirements for graduation.
  • Removes the requirement that a student must take an Advanced Placement, honors, dual credit or distance learning class.
  • Algebra II is not required for graduation, but must still be offered in all schools.

The bill keeps the total number of credits to graduate at 24, the same as current graduation requirements. It does remove a state requirement for exit exams to “demonstrate competency,” in addition to coursework.

Students are still required under federal laws to take proficiency exams in 3rd, 8th and 11th grades, according to a Legislative Education Study Committee analysis of the bill.

If signed by Gov. Michell Lujan Grisham, the new standards would apply to students entering ninth grade in the 2025-2026 year, who graduate in 2029. The legislature last updated graduation requirements in 2007 for students who started high school in the 2009-2010 school year, according to bill analysis.

Lujan Grisham vetoed a similar bill brought in 2023, saying in her veto message that the bill “weakened graduation standards,” and asked lawmakers to work the administration on a new bill.

Sponsors of the bill included current and retired teachers, such as sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero (D-Albuquerque), Sen. Bill Soules (D-Las Cruces) and Senate Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque).

Financial literacy fight

In the Senate Education Committee and spilling onto the Senate floor, was a fight over an amendment to mandate students take a half-semester standalone financial literacy course as a graduation requirement.

In committee hearings earlier this week, education lobbyists and students supported the measure to add an extra financial literacy requirement.

Small school superintendent and teachers’ union representatives testified that adding the requirement may be difficult for smaller schools, and that new social studies incorporate financial literacy into schoolwork.

Romero, a social studies teacher at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School in Albuquerque, said those standards went into effect this year, adding financial literacy concepts in kindergarten to 12th grade.

One supporter for financial literacy standalone classes was New Mexico State Treasurer Laura Montoya, appearing before the Senate Education Committee earlier this week.

“You didn’t give students an option whether or not they should be in geometry or in Algebra, but you want to give them an option as to whether or not literacy is better for them,” Montoya said. “We all know that financial literacy is better for them because [we] may have messed up our credit score or someone else’s credit score close to us.”

Debate moves from the committee to the floor

In the floor vote on Wednesday, both Stewart and Soules said the governor was not asking for a financial literacy requirement.

“Some of our members have been called by our treasurer and told that the governor wants to amend the bill, and that’s not true,” Stewart said. “I called the governor’s office and they said I could say that on the floor of the senate.”

A spokesperson for Lujan Grisham said Stewart’s statement was accurate.

Soules urged the body to reject the amendment, saying that districts could adopt standalone financial literacy requirements for graduation, and that financial literacy is part of required coursework for high schoolers when they take government, civics and personal economics.

The new requirements would allow for the half-year elective financial literacy course to now be counted towards math credits, Stewart said.

Soules said the bill was the product of four years of work, and that it had support from superintendents, school boards, teachers’ unions and other education groups.

“We have not updated the requirements for high school graduation in almost 20 years, the world has changed,” he said.

Sen. Martin Hickey (D-Albuquerque) added the amendment on the floor, he said adding one semester of financial literacy offers “fundamental life skills” to high school students, and that too few students are learning it without a one-semester focused course.

“I’ve had 30 years of continuous education, I never learned any of this stuff,” Hickey said. “I got taken by loans, paid a lot more money, had credit card fees.”

Lawmakers such as Sen. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque), Sen. Bill Sharer (R-Farmington) and Sen. Joe Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) voiced their support for the amendment.

Sharer, after giving an overview of financial literacy talks he’s given, said it will help students achieve their goals.

“We’re not a poor state, we act like a poor state,” Sharer said. “And we act like a poor state because too many of us don’t understand that money is just a tool, and how you use that tool is important.”

In the debate’s conclusion, Soules said that financial literacy is crucial and said that students are receiving that through the new social studies coursework.

“Every student, 100% of them will be getting financial literacy through this program,” he said. “The changes to the standard occurred less than a year ago, they are brand new.”

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Danielle Prokop
Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop covers the environment and local government in Southern New Mexico for Source NM. Her coverage has delved into climate crisis on the Rio Grande, water litigation and health impacts from pollution. She is based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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