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Begich Education Legislation Pushes Innovation, Science, Math


Bills likely to be added to Senate's major education reform package

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has introduced two education bills promoting innovation in education reform and strengthening programs that teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The bills, which were formally introduced Wednesday and are co-sponsored by four other senators, follow up on his commitment to push for education reform that works for Alaska.  During a recent news conference in Anchorage, Begich outlined his education legislation.

"I've said all along the one-size-fits-all limits of current education law are a poor fit for Alaska, and now it's time to do something about it," Begich said. "These bills will recognize and expand the best innovative thinking about how to improve student success, while also making sure we focus on the basics."

Begich has been working with his colleagues to draft a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the federal education law outlining education standards, expectations and levels of funding.  It is expected that his bills will be rolled into the major ESEA rewrite, which will begin to advance when Congress returns in November.

The first bill is S. 3882, the Investing in Innovation for Education Act. It is co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

The so-called "i3" bill would promote innovations proposed by school districts and organizations with proven records of improving student success. Created in the Economic Recovery Act, the i3 program would be made permanent by the Begich bill. It gives school districts - with a special focus on rural areas - the opportunity to boost innovative teaching and learning programs through competitive grants.

"I've heard repeatedly that current law doesn't recognize the unique circumstances and need for innovation in rural Alaska," Begich said. "This bill continues a national competitive program and I will make sure our rural areas can fairly compete.  Alaskans are not afraid of competition, and I always say that a program that can succeed in Alaska can succeed anywhere in the country. At the same time, if innovative ideas from other states can improve student success in Alaska, I'll support those programs, too."

The i3 program focuses on four areas:

·         Increasing teacher and principal effectiveness;
·         Turning around low-performing schools;
·         Making standards and assessments more practical and effective; and
·         Improving data systems.

The second bill is S. 3883, the Effective STEM Teaching and Learning Act. Besides, Gillibrand and Lieberman, it also is co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware. The STEM bill:

·         Creates grant programs to help states develop comprehensive STEM strategies;
·         Improves local control by enabling "outside-the-box" thinking on the local level;
·         Targets funds to high-need students in high-need districts; and
·         Supports professional development for STEM teachers.

Also on Wednesday, Begich was an original co-sponsor of a bill by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington requiring the U.S. Department of Education to pay impact aid to school districts in a timely manner. Impact aid is financial assistance to school districts affected by a federal presence.  In Alaska, this ranges from the biggest school districts impacted by military bases to small districts with large Alaska Native populations on tribal lands.  Impact aid brings millions of dollars to Alaska schools each year. Sen. Murray's bill is S. 3914.

For more information on Sen. Begich's education priorities, go to: http://begich.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Education

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