Issue Position: Education
As a mother and former PTA president, education is one of my very top priorities. Whether you are a parent, a business owner, or just a member of the community, you want to make sure that children leave school prepared to contribute to their communities in a positive and meaningful way.
In order to reach that goal, we must ensure that quality early childhood and K-12 education are available to every child in every corner of our country, no matter how remote or urban the setting. It means that access to job training and college education is available and affordable. And it means that communities are active partners in helping our children grow up strong.
Early Childhood Education
Our children need a solid foundation of literacy and social skills, health and nutritional assets, and parents who know how to help them grow strong, healthy and happy from the moment of their birth.
The federal Head Start program (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/hsb/) prepares low-income children for school by providing comprehensive, early childhood development services including educational, health, nutritional, and social activities. Throughout much of the past year, I've worked closely with my colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to write and pass the Head Start for School Readiness Act. This Act was signed into law on December 12, 2007.
It includes many of the priorities of Alaska's Head Start Directors and will help them ensure that Alaskan children are ready to succeed in school, that their parents have the skills they need to help their children learn, and that children in even the most remote communities have health and nutrition services. In addition to authorizing more funding, the bill expands eligibility for Head Start to more children, maintains local control over Head Start programs, and provides additional, guaranteed support for Indian Head Start programs.
In addition to working on the Head Start reauthorization, I have also worked to bring Alaska's Indian Head Start directors and Alaska's Best Beginnings (www.bestbeginningsalaska.org) task force together with public TV station WGBH. This partnership is working to develop episodes of the early childhood literacy TV show, Between the Lions so that Alaska Native children have access to more culturally and linguistically appropriate literacy training programming.
I am fully committed to ensuring that all children have access to a quality K-12 education as well. When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001 (http://www.ed.gov/nclb), it laid out a blueprint for reforming our education system. I am proud that Alaska has embraced the fundamental goals of the Actto ensure academic excellence for each and every child, to give schools and educators more tools to meet the challenges they face, and to empower parents.
Much has been accomplished since 2001. The achievement gap is narrowing, not only in Alaska but across the nation. Schools are using data more effectively to develop interventions for struggling students. Parents know more about what is happening in their children's schools and have more opportunities to influence their children's education. I am committed to seeing that the promise of NCLB is made a reality in our schools.
There also are, after six years of implementation, clearly some aspects of the law that need to be changed. That is why I have introduced legislationS. 1236, the School Accountability Improvements Act to fix the top five problems Alaskans have had in implementing NCLB.
My legislation will allow states to be held accountable for individual students' progress through school, not the current system of comparing one year's students with another year's. It will allow multi-subject teachers to show that they are highly qualified in a more sensible, fair way. It makes the tutoring and school choice provisions work better for schools, parents, and students. It gives flexibility to schools that want to provide an Alaska Native language immersion program, which is often so important to communities that want to save their languages from extinction. S. 1236 also encourages school districts to provide teachers with more training in how to communicate effectively with parents.
I am currently working with my colleagues on the Senate HELP Committee to reauthorize NCLB with these and other changes included in the new law.
One of my priorities for this Congress was to make postsecondary education more accessible and affordable for all Americans. If you are interested in finding information to help you afford college or job training, you may be interested in the many links to student financial aid that are available via my website at http://murkowski.senate.gov/finaid.cfm.
In September, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act was signed into law. This new law increases students' access to affordable education in college or through job training by increasing the amounts of Pell grants, putting a cap on student loan payments, providing for loan forgiveness for public service employees, and reducing federal student aid interest rates. I am particularly proud that the College Cost Reduction Act includes the new College Access Challenge Grant program. I fought hard to include this new program, which will allow Alaska Advantage borrowers to continue to receive some of the lowest interest rates in the nation, and will help get more Alaskan students into college and job training.
Another bill I've worked hard on is the Higher Education Act reauthorization. This legislation will, among other provisions, make the cost of college more transparent, protect student aid borrowers from unethical and unscrupulous lenders, simplify the process to apply for student aid, and improve teacher preparation programs. It will also authorize two programs that have been successful in Alaskathe Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (http://ansep.uaa.alaska.edu) and Project GRAD (www.projectgrad.org/kenai). I hope that the work to reconcile differences between the Senate and House of Representatives versions of this bill will conclude before summer vacation starts this year.I am also a staunch supporter of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act programs. (For more information about Perkins programs, see http://labor.state.ak.us/awib/voced.htm and www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/programs.html). These programs support State and community efforts to improve high school and adult career and technical education programs, adult education and literacy systems, programs for incarcerated youth, and competitive grants to establish smaller learning communities in high schools.
While the Administration has consistently proposed to eliminate funding for these programs, I have consistently defended them because they help ensure that our young people, and our not-so-young people, have the skills they need to succeed in today's workforce.
Adequate funding for education is very important to ensure that young people have access to effective programs that will help them to fully meet their potential. I have consistently supported increased funding for programs that are targeted to disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and other programs that benefit Alaska's children. I will continue to support adequate funding levels for these and other programs that will help Alaska's principals, teachers, and students to succeed.
To learn more about funding levels for education programs that are administered through the U.S. Department of Education, go to http://www.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/tables.html. This site provides information about education funding from 2001 through proposed levels for Fiscal Year 2009. Detailed tables for funds provided by state and by program are also available at this site.