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Proposal allows students to earn credits for work outside of school

High school students could earn elective credit through paid work experience under a bill that has passed the state House of Representatives 93-4 and is now in the Senate.

“Financial education is a priority for young adults and families,” said Rep. Clyde Shavers, D-Oak Harbor, who sponsored the bill. “That means how to open a checking account or a savings account, how to invest, how to take out a loan. Let’s make sure financial literacy is a part of every young adult’s life; let’s give them the financial knowledge and the tools so that they are better prepared for life outside or after high school.”

Under current law, high school students in the state of Washington are required to earn 24 credits to graduate. Seven of those are elective credits. Shaver’s bill, Substitute House Bill 1658, would authorize high school students over the age of 16 to earn up to two elective credits for paid work experience beginning in the 2023-24 school year.

A proposal for earning credits for work experience would need to be approved in advance and in writing by the school counselor or principal and a work-based sponsor who would be the point of contact and participate in supervising the student during their employment.

Under the bill, one half credit will be awarded for every 180 hours of paid and verified work a student completes if the work meets the requirements for earning elective credits through work experience.

Shavers said nearly 30 percent of high school students work statewide, and some of these students are from low-income families and take jobs outside of school to support their families.

Some students have such a heavy academic schedule, they don’t have the chance to pursue job opportunities that expand upon workforce training and professional development, he said. Regardless, students are still required to complete 24 credits to graduate, he said.

“So, let’s provide our high school students the flexibility to pursue these job opportunities, to gain the work experience, the leadership skills, to support their family without harming their academic performance or jeopardizing their graduation,” Shavers said.

Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, said she opposes the bill because she graduated high school in a time where many students who went to college were so far behind, they would have to take an entire year before they could earn college credits.

Other bills approved in the Legislature grant waivers for graduation credits, Caldier said. If this was the only bill with a waiver, she said she would support it.

“But the problem is, is that it’s layered on top of all the other bills that we’ve passed,” she said. “All of the children that we did not properly educate during the pandemic, and that we have completely failed… in my opinion we’re going to continue to fail them.”

Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, said while he agrees with Caldier that educational standards are declining. But, he said, this bill should be supported.

In his own school career, He missed a human biology course and applied for waiver with an emergency medical technician class he took, and his principal wasn’t going to let him graduate on time. Griffey said it didn’t make sense because he had joined the fire department at 15 years old and had significant career-readiness by the time he was ready to graduate.

Griffey said he was fighting fires, doing CPR for the first time and saw his first fatality car wreck at 15 years old. He said he did not understand why the school would not work with him because he was doing something that made him ready for his career.

“That’s what we’re missing, they’re not ready to do the jobs, and if we can get our kiddos involved and earlier ready to do the jobs, we have to do everything we possibly can,” he said. “This is the one that can get us closer to career-readiness.”

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