STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
By Mr. STEVENS (for himself and Ms. MURKOWSKI):
S. 1205. A bill to provide discounted housing for teachers and other staff in rural areas of States with a population less than 1,000,000 and with a high population of Native Americans or Alaska Natives; to the Committee on Indian Affairs.
Mr. STEVENS. Mr. President, on behalf of Senator MURKOWSKI, I rise to introduce the Rural Teacher Housing Act of 2003.
Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise to introduce a bill that will have a profound effect on the retention of good teachers, administrators, and other school staff in remote and rural areas of Alaska and in the rest of our Nation.
In rural areas of Alaska, school districts face the challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers, administrators and other school staff due to the lack of affordable housing. In one school district, they hire one teacher for every six who decide not to accept job offers. Half of the applicants not accepting a teaching position in that district indicated that their decision was related to the lack of housing options.
Recently, I traveled throughout rural Alaska with Education Secretary Rod Paige. I wanted him to see the challenges of educating children in such a remote and rural environment. At one rural school, the principal must sleep in his office due to the lack of housing in that village. In the same village, there is not enough housing for each teacher to have their own separate homeseveral teachers must share a single home. Therefore, there is not enough room for the teachers' spouses.
Rural Alaskan school districts also experience a high annual rate of teacher turnover due to the dearth of affordable housing. Apparently, up to 30 percent of teachers leave rural school districts due to housing issues. How can we expect our children to thrive and to meet the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act in such an educational environment? Clearly, the lack of affordable teacher housing in rural Alaska is an issue that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that children in rural Alaska receive an educational experience that is second to none and is also respectful of cultural differences.
My bill authorizes the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide funds to States to address the shortage of teacher housing in rural areas in Alaska and in the rest of our Nation. Specifically, my bill provides funds to States that have a population of 1 million or fewer people and include qualifying municipalities, which have populations of 6,500 or fewer people and also do not have direct access to either a State or interstate highway system. The appropriate state housing authority will accept such funds and will then transfer the funds to an eligible school district in a qualifying municipality. An eligible school district must be within the boundaries of an Indian reservation, one or more Alaska Native villages or land owned by one or more Alaska Native village corporations. This legislation will allow the eligible school districts to address the housing shortage in the following ways: construct housing units, purchase and rehabilitate existing housing units, or rehabilitate housing units that are already owned by a school district. Once this phase is complete, eligible school districts shall provide the housing to teachers or other school staff under terms agreed upon by the school district and the teacher or other staff.
It is imperative that we address this important issue immediately and allow the flexibility for the disbursement of funds to be handled at the local level. The quality of education of our rural children is at stake.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.