Improving opportunities

When I was in high school, I faced the same decision many teens face as they grow older: What do I want to do with my life?

I did not follow what many would consider to be a traditional career path. During high school, I enrolled in Newaygo County’s Career Tech Center to learn real-world skills that can’t be taught by a textbook. I decided to learn skills for the construction industry and pursue a career as a home builder.

I think all Michigan students should have the ability to make similar decisions regarding their futures — though sometimes the current system doesn’t provide a good process for making those decisions.

I recently introduced legislation to give more flexibility to local school districts when choosing graduation requirements.

I believe our current requirements don’t always allow students to explore possibilities that better suit their interests or needs. These requirements sometimes limit student creativity and exploration. My goal is to better help students to be prepared for life after school, even if those plans do not include a traditional four-year college.

In 2006, the Michigan Merit Curriculum went into effect and created statewide requirements for high school students in our state. Prior to 2006, graduation requirements were left up to the local school districts.

Currently, students who follow the traditional route in Michigan must complete the following courses and credits to receive a high school diploma:

  • Four credits in English;
  • Four credits in mathematics (required: algebra I, geometry and algebra II);
  • One credit making up both physical education and health;
  • Three credits in science;
  • Three credits in social studies (required: U.S. history and geography, world history and geography, one-half credit in economics, and civics);
  • One credit in visual, performing and applied arts; and
  • Two credits in world language.

Senate Bills 600 and 601 would allow students more opportunities to enroll in courses or programs they find interesting or wish to pursue as a career.

Specifically, the bills would eliminate the algebra II requirement for graduation. Michigan is one of only seven states to require algebra II for graduation, and eliminating this requirement would open up opportunities for students to enroll in courses that would better prepare them to meet their goals for the future.

These changes will make sure students are ready for the next step after high school, whether that’s entering the workforce or attending a trade school or college.

School districts should have the ability to make choices that are best for them, rather than being forced to follow a state-mandated, one-size-fits-all policy.

I’ve always believed that local schools have a better understanding than the state of what their students need to be successful. Parents, teachers and administrators who know and work with these students every day are more than capable of making these decisions, and my legislation will take steps to give schools the ability to do so once again.

SBs 600 and 601 currently sit before the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness for further discussion. The first committee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5, where two Muskegon County superintendents will join me to testify on the legislation.

Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, represents the 34th state Senate District, which includes Muskegon, Newaygo and Oceana counties.