By Johnny Jackson
Lawmakers are pushing a bill in the Georgia House to require the state's general education high school students to complete a minimum of 75 hours of community service and a course in personal banking and finance before they graduate.
House Bill 215 was introduced by state Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough), and has picked up bipartisan support. The bill is known as the "Graduating Everyone Matters Act." Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur), one of its co-signers, said it is partly a response to President Barack Obama's call for more civic participation.
"Sometimes I think we're hurting our students by putting restrictions on our students," Mayo said. "We're responding to the differences in students because not everyone intends to go to college. Our goal is to provide more options for high schoolers which could be in line with a vocational track, a college track, or those who just want to get a general diploma."
The bill would require high school students to take a one-year comprehensive course in personal finance and banking. The course, Davis said, would include instruction on budgeting, credit, insurance, investments, and retirement accounts.
"It's one thing to go through four years of math and another thing to understand personal finance," Davis said. Money management is "getting more and more complicated these days - students need to know how to manage their money," he said.
Another portion of the bill would offer students three areas in which to focus their education, in addition to the unified, more stringent graduation requirements imposed by the state Board of Education last year.
The requirements were changed to coordinate with the new Georgia Performance Standards curriculum, requiring all students to have a total of 23 credits in specific subjects in order to graduate.
Davis' proposal would reinstate the previously existing tiered graduation options for students, enabling them to pursue a general education diploma, a career-vocational-technical diploma, or a college preparation diploma.
"We ought not be giving less choices for the kids," Davis said. "We should be trying to give them as many opportunities to succeed as we can. It will increase graduation rates, and we need to be better preparing these people for the workforce and society."
The bill would apply to students entering ninth-grade this fall, but students in the 10th-, 11th-, or 12th-grade during that time may elect stay under current graduation requirements.
Students pursing career-vocational-technical and college preparation diplomas would also have to complete at least 100 hours of community service, according to the bill.
"It's going to not only teach students the value and importance of giving back to the community, it's also going to help our community," Mayo said. "The bill addresses the need for vocational studies to aid workforce development by providing an option for a vocational diploma."
Mayo said he hopes the bill will improve graduation rates across the state as well as deepen awareness of the importance of community service in young adults.
Davis, a registered substitute teacher in Henry County, said he believes the bill will help with teacher retention as well.
"There are intended consequences and unintended consequences," Davis said. "But I'm actually getting some good reviews."
He said he hopes to work through any flaws in the bill when he presents the proposal this week to a House committee.