WASHINGTON — Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta panned Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new high school graduation requirement, in which seniors will have to prove they are heading to college, the military, a trade or a job in order to get a diploma — saying Monday that a student should have a choice — not a mandate.

It’s a meaty public policy question: How far should government go in forcing students to have post-high school plans?

Last month, the Chicago school board approved Emanuel’s latest initiative to put the extra requirements on the Class of 2020 — something innovative, yes, but controversial because without a lot of counseling and related resources, this is easier decreed by CPS than done.


About 41 percent of Chicago Public Schools seniors don’t have a next step in place when they graduate, and Emanuel is gauging that these toughest cases will be helped more than hurt with the new reality that kids have to have their act together to get a CPS high school diploma.

Emanuel will be in Washington next Tuesday to deliver a speech at the National Press Club, where he is expected to tout on a national stage his latest proposal of moving to, as he has said, a pre-kindergarten to college model rather than K through 12.

The mayor’s D.C. visit will come days after President Donald Trump, who starred in the reality TV show “The Apprentice,” is kicking off his apprenticeship proposals at the Department of Labor on Wednesday. That’s why Labor Secretary Acosta was at the White House briefing.

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Acosta made a big promise: “This administration will expand apprentices across most, if not all, industries.”

Emanuel has been on this for years — preparing students with skills to fit with the needs of the workforce and forging public-private partnerships. The City Colleges of Chicago offers free tuition to any CPS student who graduates with a B average.

Now Emanuel has gone farther, forcing students to figure out what they are doing next while in 12th grade.

So I asked Acosta at the briefing about the Emanuel plan, not using the mayor’s name. What did he think, I asked, “for at least one big city” to have these graduation requirements.

Said Acosta, “I’ll speak just for myself on this one. I worry about a requirement that requires students to do A, B or C. I think our nation is about choosing, and I think you need to respect individuals’ choices.

“And you certainly encourage. You can say, what are you going to do with yourself, what do you want to do? But I always worry when I hear the word “requirement,” because I think we’re about choice.”

Acosta has some food for thought. Since Emanuel has no money to throw to CPS to help the 41 percent at-risk students figure out their post-high school plans, why deny them the high school degree they otherwise, under the old requirements, earned?

There were no details from Acosta about Trump’s apprenticeship plans except it will be about “private-private partnerships” between business and educational institutions. Stay tuned for the new season of “The Apprentice.”