Murkowski: Help wanted

Senator says state can do more when it comes to education

Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Alaska school system is not meeting the needs of children, despite the fact the state is wealthy in resources and savings that could be applied to education if the political will was there, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Wednesday in Kenai.

“We are not a state that can be proud of what we are doing with our education,” she said at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

She promised to continue working for education at the federal level, but advised that Alaskans continue to do the same at the state level.

“It ought to just blow everybody’s mind that a state like this with the resources that we have, the wealth that we have — I know it is verboten to talk about going into the permanent fund — but we have a savings account that is $30 billion-plus, and yet we’re having difficulty of ensuring our kids have a quality education,” she said.

“This is not something that we should be proud of as Alaskans. We should be able to say, ‘My kids can get the best education in my neighborhood school here on the peninsula or in McGrath or wherever it is.’”

Alaska has educational challenges, in part because of its geographical challenges, Murkowski said.

“But we have the ability to get around it if we make that commitment,” she said.

She said there has been some recent good news from the Legislature and from Gov. Frank Murkowski’s administration regarding possible additional state dollars going to education in the fiscal year 2007 state budget.

The governor has requested an additional $90.2 million for education and is seeking a $433 increase in the base student allocation to $5,352. The governor also has noted advancement in efforts to meet the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Sen. Murkowski acknowledged that, too, though with a caveat.

“As much as I have been a critic of No Child Left Behind, we are seeing some advances in achievement areas of our kids, and that’s important to know,” she said. “But, we need to be able to, at the very early ages all the way on up through vocational education or on through college, we need to be able to say that we have an education system that does right by our kids. I think it is fair to say that right now we do not, and we can see this in our smaller communities.”

She noted the Legislature’s long struggle to find a way to rework the area cost differential, the program that determines how state education dollars are distributed among rural and urban school districts.

Successive Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrations and Board of Education members have been saying for years that the program is inherently unfair to the borough by designating it far more urban than it really is. Murkowski said the cost differential was a issue when she was in the Alaska House.

“The problem that we face is that you know your kids don’t stay young long enough to benefit if it takes us eight years to figure out what we’re doing and how we are going to get that funding into the schools,” she said.

“We have got to do better by our kids as far as the funding. But we also recognize that it is not always just about funding. Also need to make sure our kids have good teachers, make sure that kids have the reinforcement at home to be challenged and focused on their education, as well.”

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