Computer Science Will Count Towards High School Diploma in New Mexico

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez previously vetoed a similar bill last year, but changed her tune early last week.

by Andrew Oxford, Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican / May 1, 2018
Students show their computer science work at Occidental's Johnson Hall on December 06, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Many liberal arts schools, like Occidental College, are creating computer science majors with a more philosophical and ethics based approach, rather than the traditional engineering school method of being solely focused on training programmers for future employment. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times/TNS) TNS

(TNS) —  Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill just last year that would have allowed New Mexico high school students to count computer science classes toward credits required to graduate.

But on Tuesday, her administration said it would go ahead with the idea — a day before the state Supreme Court takes up a lawsuit over that veto and several others in a case that threatens to narrow the governor’s power to nix legislation.

The announcement allowed the outgoing two-term Republican to avoid the state’s highest court telling her to implement a bill that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The hearing, which involves nine other vetoed bills, will go on. But tangibly, Tuesday’s announcement will at last clear the way for an idea that aims to draw more young New Mexicans into the computer sciences.

Exactly what prompted the announcement on Tuesday was not clear. The administration unveiled the move at an event for computer science students in Los Alamos, and later issued a news release as well as comments suggesting the 2017 bill had been weaker in terms of rigor than the courses Public Education Department says it is promoting.

“Our kids are entering the 21st century marketplace where more and more jobs require computer science skills,” Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski said in a statement. “That’s why Gov. Martinez and the Public Education Department are working to ensure all New Mexico students not only have access to rigorous computer science courses to prepare them for college and career but that they are also able to make those courses count toward a diploma.”

Starting this fall, students can take a computer science class and count it as one of the math or science credits required to graduate — providing they test as proficient on certain standardized math or science exams. And then only if they have met the Algebra II graduation requirement.

The Public Education Department laid out a short list of computer science classes students will be able to count toward a diploma. And the list is likely to grow. The department said it will review all existing computer courses to determine which meet the criteria for a math or science credit.

Business groups and liberal Democrats alike rallied behind a bill at the Legislature in 2017 that would have let students substitute a math or science class for a computer science course.

The House of Representatives approved the bill 67-0 and it passed the Senate 33-4.

Backers argued the measure would give students an incentive to take computer science classes. That in turn could equip students with skills that are increasingly in demand, help diversify the state’s economy and promote more diversity in the tech industry.

The bill passed during a particularly acrimonious time at the Roundhouse, however.

The same day Martinez nixed this bills, the Senate voted to override another one of the governor’s vetoes in an unusual insurrection led by a fellow Republican.

Martinez did not initially explain why she vetoed the computer science bill, however. Nor did she initially explain why she vetoed several other mostly arcane and largely noncontroversial pieces of legislation that she proceeded to shoot down in what some lawmakers speculated was retribution.

The governor later issued a message telling legislators she was vetoing bills because lawmakers had not passed a budget or confirmed some of her appointees. And on Tuesday, the department argued this particular bill would have allowed students to count any computer science course toward graduation regardless of rigor.

Still, the slew of vetoes spurred the Legislature to file suit against the governor, arguing she did not properly veto the bills and that the bills should become law anyway.

Legislators argue the governor was required by law to explain her vetoes in writing — even if vaguely — at the time she nixed the bills.

The lawsuit has raised a novel question about the veto power of New Mexico’s governor. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on Wednesday morning.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque who sponsored the bill last year, said he believed legislation was necessary rather than just a change in department rules.

But he added: “A win is a win.”

The lawsuit over the vetoes will address some important legal issues about the governor’s power and the process for vetoing a bill, Candelaria said.

Nonetheless, he said: “Last thing I want is for the squabbles of adults to get in the way of opportunities for kids.”

©2018 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.