U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today secured a commitment from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to formulate a rural set aside for competitive grant programs impacting rural schools. In a Budget Committee hearing on the President's 2012 education budget, Sec. Duncan agreed with Sen. Begich that rural schools can be at a disadvantage when competing for federal grants with cities like Los Angeles and Chicago and adjustments need to be made to make sure rural schools can compete.
"We want to make sure we are having an impact everywhere around the country. We think we can do more and do a better job in rural communities," Sec. Duncan said. "We want to make sure we are playing in a significant way in the rural communities. We are learning there."
Begich pointed out that rural communities are often at a disadvantage when it comes to competing for Investing in Innovation (i3) and Race to the Top funding because the cost is deemed higher when you have smaller student populations. Duncan agreed adjustments need to be made for rural schools and for the first time the secretary committed to a rural set aside in the Investing in Innovation program to allow rural schools to fairly compete.
Sec. Duncan also agreed with Sen. Begich that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is not working across the country and is in need of significant overhaul.
"No Child Left Behind is a disaster," Begich said. "It has no real understanding of rural America, and when I say rural America I mean rural Alaska."
"I think so much of No Child Left Behind is broken for the country, but particularly broken in rural and remote communities," Duncan said. "And I think we can fix the law this session . and a huge part of our goal is to shrink the federal footprint and give much more flexibility."
Sen. Begich is planning to reintroduce his Investing in Innovation for Education Act with improvements to help rural schools compete. This legislation authorizes the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) to continue promoting innovative ideas proposed by organizations with records of improving student outcomes. Created in the Economic Recovery Act, the i3 program would be permanently put into law under Begich's bill. The bill will reward school districts, groups of schools, and community organizations with innovative teaching and learning programs. Priority is given for grant applicants proposing to improve early learning outcomes, support college access and success, and support family and community engagement.