In a media briefing on Thursday, state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal unveiled a new plan that would allow Washington students over the age of 16 to earn an elective credit toward graduation through any out-of-school work opportunity of their choosing.
According to statewide student surveys, Reykdal said, high school students are asking for more freedom in their work-school schedule balance and have reported a need to work to help financially support their families amid a time of economic turmoil.
"An increasing number of students say they are under a growing amount of pressure," Reykdal said. "Students are saying they're looking for more connections between where they want to go and what they're learning. This is about how students choose their time."
Starting in the 2023-2024 school year, students of working age will be eligible to earn one elective credit for 360 hours of work or 0.5 credit for 180 hours of work. One credit is equivalent to one year of class; students in Washington are required to complete 24 credits to receive a high school diploma.
The work credit would not count toward "core credits," such as math, science and English language arts.
Though a form of this program already exists, Reykdal said on Thursday that it featured far too many obstacles for a majority of students. Out of an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 students over 16 that work at least a part-time job in Washington as of 2021, Reykdal said only 6,000-7,000 are actively receiving in-class credit for the work experience.
Students are required to complete necessary forms with a verification of employment to their respective school, which will then periodically reach out to the employer to monitor student progress throughout the year.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction will initiate rulemaking for the proposal in the coming weeks. They will then seek input from community stakeholders and district administrators in a series of yet-to-be-scheduled public hearings on how to best implement the program and whether to seek additional funding from the Legislature in the coming year.
The plan is the second piece of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's nine-part series of "transformational budget and policy proposals" being released through November titled "Washington State Innovates: K-12 Education for the 21st Century and Beyond."
What it could mean for Clark County
School officials in Southwest Washington said Thursday that the plan should be beneficial to students in the area, where many districts already maintain similar, smaller-scale work-study programs.
"What better way for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom than on the job in real-life situations," said Margaret Rice, the director of Career and Technical Education and culinary services for the Washougal School District. "It's also a great way for students to advance their knowledge, gain confidence and build long-lasting business connections/relationships, not to mention the value-add for businesses."
Through Educational Service District 112, which oversees and supports school districts across Clark County, students are able to get connected with local businesses and careers through a program called Career Connect SW. ESD 112 employs two career navigators in the program, who work to place youth in paid internships or apprenticeship programs that connect to students' selected pathways within their personalized, work-integrated learning plan for graduation.
At specific school districts like Washougal, select staff known as worksite learning coordinators work to connect local businesses with students interested in work-based learning and help to monitor them throughout the year. As of now, many of those positions are only able to support students if their work takes place during the school day. Were student work opportunities to be expanded under Reykdal's plan in the coming years, said Rice, these positions would need additional funding.
"If (students) can't fit worksite learning into their six-period-a day schedule, there is no funding to support the student to enroll in the class outside of their scheduled day," Rice said. "For this program to be robust, funding needs to be available and flexible to meet the students where they are and support their educational goals no matter what their schedule dictates."