Murkowski Chides Washington, D.C. Dictating Rural Education Policies

Senator Criticizes Federal Government's Ability to Address Alaska's Needs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – There are at least fifteen different and distinct federal definitions of ‘rural’ in the U.S. government – eleven alone from an agricultural policy perspective – and today Senator Lisa Murkowski argued for more sensible policies to address America’s rural regions that reflects the needs of the nation’s less populated areas.  This priority was a driving force in Murkowski introducing The Educational Accountability and State Flexibility Act, which would take power from Washington, DC and hand it to local school boards and districts.

During a ‘markup’ session of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, Senator Murkowski recommended that the U.S. Department of Education better consider the unique circumstances faced by the smallest communities in America. As the Committee debated an amendment to create a new Office of Rural Education – which would utilize five different definitions of a ‘rural’ community – Senator Murkowski reminded her colleagues that Alaska’s rural conditions are far more “extreme” than those understood in the lower 48.  

(Senator Murkowski pushes for states’ voices in education policy – CLICK to watch)

“What I would hope is that within the Department of Education that we have individuals that are truly from rural areas, not people who live in the city, work in the city and raise their kids in the city and make policy, hoping that it’s not going to negatively impact our students and schools in rural areas… I am worried that by putting the emphasis here in Washington, that we are not going to get the impact that we are hoping for.  Recognizing that in our rural areas, there are so many differences that are extreme and my state is a great example.” 

Moments later, Murkowski voted against the amendment but noted her willingness to work with the amendment’s sponsor to address their shared concerns.  She agreed that the Department does not understand the special challenges and circumstances of rural schools, but attested that the amendment did not require that the new Office of Rural Education be staffed by people who had worked in rural communities or schools.  Worse still, it would have added more burdensome reporting requirements to rural schools that are already stressed.