Alternative Graduation Requirements Bill Clears House in Unanimous Vote

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The House unanimously passed legislation last week that would expand options for fulfilling high school graduation requirements in Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 1095 – which also passed the Senate unanimously in June – would allow students enrolled in career and technical education or other alternative pathways to opt out of taking the Keystone Exams.  The exams were developed as a way to ensure that Pennsylvania students graduate high school as prepared as possible for the next phase of their lives and were planned to take effect for the 2016-17 school year, but have been delayed.

The PA Chamber is among a broad group in support of strong graduation requirements because we support a public education system based on rigorous standards, with appropriate transparency and robust accountability measures.  When S.B. 1095 was first introduced, our organization opined that while we understood that graduation requirements should reflect the diversity of the student body, the bill swung the pendulum too far back and threatened the accountability standards we wanted to see implemented.  Since that time, however, those concerns have been addressed through negotiations with lawmakers.

Shortly before the House’s vote on S.B. 1095, the PA Chamber joined Excellent Schools PA and Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children in sending a memo that urged lawmakers to engage in oversight to ensure that the standards in the legislation are being met.  “To be sure, the impact of added transparency and accountability measures, and the extent to which the bill in general benefits students, is entirely based on how it is carried out by schools in partnership with state officials and with vigorous oversight from the legislature,” the coalition wrote.  “Passing this legislation is an important, but early step in the process and we urge all stakeholders to maintain a commitment to the principles now encompassed in this bill.”

PA Chamber Government Affairs Director Alex Halper was quoted in a Pennlive story about the House’s passage of the bill, saying that while rigorous standards for graduating high school students must be met, the PA Chamber understands that a blanket approach to graduation requirements might not work for everyone. “When this legislation is implemented, it will be a significant improvement over the status quo,” Halper said.