ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska's U.S. senators are joining in a wider overhaul of the country's education system, taking a hard look at the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- or as most people know it, No Child Left Behind.
Last week during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) passed amendments aimed at improving education in Alaska. Murkowski introduced amendments that relate to "highly qualified" teachers in rural Alaska.
Under current federal law a teacher cannot teach a subject unless they are considered "highly qualified," but the amendment will allow teachers to get the proper credentials using tele-education.
"There may be only two teachers in a school," said National Education Association-Alaska President Barb Angaiak. "It is very, very difficult for those teachers to be highly qualified, take course work, pass exams in every content area they teach."
Another amendment will allow Alaska Native elders to teach language and culture in the schools.
"Unfortunately our federal education laws would view Tlingit or Yupik as a foreign language and it has to be instructed by a highly qualified teacher," Murkowski said. "Yupik, Tlingit, Athabascan -- these are not foreign languages, these are the first languages."
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) has also been very critical of No Child Left Behind, saying it doesn't work in rural Alaska.
Begich supported amendments to the first draft of the bill, which included dedicating funds for rural projects and education focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
"No Child Left Behind, it really penalized for even being somewhat successful," Begich said. "In a lot of ways, for urban Alaska -- but really for rural Alaska -- it has done a lot of damage."
Both senators say that if the final bill does not benefit Alaska, they will not vote for it.
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