Washington’s top education official is putting a plan in motion for high schoolers to earn elective credits for their after-school jobs.

The plan, unveiled Thursday, would allow students to earn up to four elective credits during their junior and senior years in high school for work they do outside of school. 

The goal is to give students recognition for the learning many are already doing in the workplace, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. It’ll be available for students who work across all kinds of fields. 

“It isn’t that we’re going to allow some employers to do it and not others, this is to honor all work: manufacturing, retail, food services,” he said. 

Under the plan, students over the age of 16 will be able to earn up to two elective credits a year, with a four-credit limit. Students will earn one credit toward their high school diploma for every 360 hours worked at a job that’s confirmed by their school. Schools will be responsible for coordinating with employers to monitor that student’s progress, but students will still be required to meet core academic credit requirements, like those for science, English and math. 

Washington students must earn 17 core academic credits, as well as seven elective credits, to graduate — a total of 24 credits overall. 

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According to OSPI, roughly a third of the state’s current high school juniors and seniors have a job. Reykdal said the process of developing the new strategy has been ongoing with the state’s implementation of graduation pathways — the state’s new graduation requirements that aim to cut the tie between exams and a diploma and prepare students with different options to pursue after high school. He also said the idea of giving working students school credit isn’t entirely new, but the plan is much more streamlined than previous efforts. 

“Students are essentially going to sign up for this like they would any class,” he said. 

Reykdal said the ultimate vision is that students who leverage the elective work credit option will have more flexibility — they could use a free period during the school day to work on homework, for example, or shift their daily class schedule to better mesh with their working hours.

Reykdal said his office has the authority to make the change on its own through the public rule-making process, and the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the plan through late fall and winter this year. The timeline will also allow schools to put supports in place to successfully implement the change, he said, and give the legislature time to add guardrails or expand on the idea during the next legislative session. 

Reykdal said OSPI is officially initiating the rule-making process within the next 30-45 days, with the intention that the program will roll out in time for the 2023-24 school year.