Stevens calls for flexibility in federal education law

Posted: Tuesday, April 01, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said he will seek federal funding for ''regional learning centers'' to help rural Alaska meet requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

He's also asking Education Secretary Rod Paige to give the state more flexibility in complying with the federal education law.

Stevens, R-Alaska, made the remarks in a speech Monday to the Alaska Legislature and in a news conference afterward.

Stevens said he believes Alaska will be able to get waivers to some provisions of the law that create difficulties here, but other problems will require future changes in federal law.

One provision that poses problems in rural Alaska is the requirement that districts let students transfer to another school if their school is not performing well.

''How do you do that in a state that doesn't have roads between those villages?'' Stevens asked.

He said regional learning centers in hub communities, such as Bethel, Barrow or Nome, may be one solution. He envisions federal funds helping pay for such programs, which would have transportation and boarding costs.

''Maybe it might be one school we take, we certify a school as being an excellent school and we send students to that school,'' Stevens said.

The state Department of Education and Early Development has said regional learning centers could serve several purposes.

For instance, they might be places where students could fly in for a few weeks and take higher level classes that aren't provided at their local schools.

The centers could also provide training for rural teachers and teaching assistants.

Stevens said he's asking Secretary Paige for flexibility in other parts of the law, including the requirement that high school teachers have a college degree or the equivalent in each subject they teach.

This is a problem in very small schools with just two or three teachers. Stevens said he'll ask that teachers in rural Alaska be required to have a college major in just one of the core subjects they teach, rather than in each subject they teach.

Stevens criticized Paige for not having his staff visit rural Alaska when they've come to the state, saying they don't get a good understanding of the state's challenges visiting only urban areas.

''They don't go out and take a look at Holy Cross and Shismaref and see what those needs are out there,'' Stevens said.

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