One of the keys to a healthy economy and healthy community is a well-educated population and workforce. In a world that is growing increasingly interconnected, it doesn't matter if you live in Hooper Bay or New York City--access to a good education and the willingness to work hard will provide every opportunity to succeed in life. After all, there is no monopoly on brains, and a good education is the ultimate stimulus package.
Alaska certainly has its own set of hurdles to overcome in providing our children with educational opportunities, but our unique challenges can also lead to innovative solutions. Alaska needs the flexibility in education policy to be able to put in place solutions that work for Alaska -- not requirements to implement policies developed for California or Florida.
For example, while the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) put in place some good tools to help our schools improve -- like better data for educators to help struggling students more effectively and more opportunities for parents to influence their children's education -- NCLB has frustrated many at times, including myself. I continue to press for commonsense solutions to make the program more workable in our state and across the country.
Legislation I sponsored, the School Accountability Improvements Act, would address many of Alaska's challenges under the law. My bill would, among other provisions, allow states to give schools credit for improving student achievement rather than punishing them for not hitting arbitrary targets. It would give multi-subject teachers in rural areas flexibility from the law's Highly Qualified Teacher provision by giving them credit for their effectiveness. The bill would also provide flexibility to schools that are working to preserve treasured indigenous languages through Native language immersion programs.
As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, I have a seat at the table at which NCLB will be amended. From this position, I have the opportunity to improve the law from the ground up. I am also in a position to oppose inadvisable, one-size-fits-all ideas, such as the administration's proposal to fire a struggling school's principal as the first resort -- even when that principal's leadership is resulting in improved student achievement.
Fixing NCLB is just one part of my efforts to ensure every Alaskan the opportunity to get a good education. I have also worked to improve other federal education laws. In 2007, I helped to reauthorize the Head Start Act to ensure that our youngest children have access to high quality early childhood education that helps to set their feet on the right path to academic success. In 2007 and 2008, I worked to amend the Higher Education Act, which resulted in more help for young and not-so-young adults have better access to an affordable college education and job training.
I have also supported efforts to train Alaskans for the well-paying trades that helped to build Alaska and that are necessary to take us through the 21st Century. Our nation needs laborers, carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers, heavy equipment operators and other skilled tradesmen as much as we need doctors, nurses and teachers. I have secured funds for the Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center, the Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center, the Alaska Native Aviation Training Center, the Joint Pipeline Training Center and other vocational training opportunities to ensure that those needs are met. When my colleagues in the U.S. Senate talk about preparing our youth for college, I say, "and job training!" Put simply, we must not rely on the Lower 48 to supply the talent to build our roads, homes, gas pipeline and other infrastructure. Alaskans can and will do the jobs that need to be done to fulfill the promise of our Great Land
Just ask any of the groups involved in Alaskan education and they will tell you -- Lisa "gets it" -- because the work I do to improve federal education and job training policy is informed by Alaskan educators, job trainers, students, parents, community organizations and many others --the best way I know to make sure federal law is responsive to Alaskans' needs.