'This modernizes graduation requirements': Governor signs first major bill of the session into law

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Feb. 9—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."