Murkowski Presses Education Secretary on Important Education Issues for Alaska

Demands Answer on AMP Testing Waiver, Asks for Alaska Exemption from Diversity Proposal

Today U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski questioned Secretary of Education Dr. John B. King, Jr. on two issues of importance for Alaska’s schools, students, educators, and communities—whether he would approve Alaska’s request for a waiver from federal testing requirements, and whether he would rescind or exempt Alaska from a proposed new priority for federal competitive education grants.

Murkowski began her exchange with Dr. King by following up on her questions from an April hearing and her June 23rd letter (attached) regarding Alaska’s cancellation of the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) due to “significant, widespread, totally unexplained and unfixed technical problems that prevented students from being able to complete the AMP.”  Senator Murkowski noted:

“The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development has requested a waiver from the requirement to assess during the 2015-2016 school year. The question to you this morning is will you approve the state’s waiver?”


(Click image to watch Senator Murkowski question Secretary King on AMP testing.)

When Secretary King responded that the Department was waiting for information on the events that occurred and Alaska’s plans to ensure assessments will be implemented next year, Senator Murkowski replied:

“Well, it’s not as if they want to avoid assessments. But again, when you have things totally beyond your control – when Kansas basically goes dark, if you will, and we cannot complete the testing – it really is a situation that calls for review and for waivers. So I would ask you to move on that very quickly.”

Senator Murkowski also questioned Dr. King on a proposed new priority to be applied to all of the Department’s competitive grants that could prevent Alaska’s schools and university campuses from receiving these grants unless they investigate barriers to diversity, change school assignment policies, create or expand charter schools, or change how state and local funds are allocated to schools. 


(Click image to watch video.)

Senator Murkowski noted:

“I think we would all recognize that increasing diversity in our schools is a worthy goal. I also understand your concerns about the outcomes of students who are enrolled in many of our nation’s high-poverty schools. 

“But we’ve got a different situation in Alaska. I hope you would recognize that. We have some very, very isolated regions in the state. These are regions that are bigger than most other states. Poverty is high and the population is often almost entirely Alaska Native. There are no roads; 80% of the communities in Alaska are not accessible by roads. Often times where there are roads, they are often dangerous in the very cold winter. So we know the barriers. We know the barriers very well. Many of our communities are barely large enough to sustain one K-12 school, so school choice is not an issue here. And allocating funds differently is not going to change the facts on the ground. It is still a very small school, very isolated, geographically islanded. 

“Your proposal, therefore, could actually prevent many rural Alaskan school districts and even some of the University of Alaska campuses from qualifying for any competitive grants from your Department – exactly the grants that are intended to help these schools serve their students better. So I would ask if you would look at this proposal or re-draft it so that schools in places like Alaska – that are so remote, so unique – are either exempt from this proposal, or rescind it all together.”

Dr. King acknowledged the facts on the ground in Alaska, and said the issues of geographic isolation would be taken into account as the Department implements the diversity priority proposal.  

Related Issues: Education