Reaffirming his commitment to overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today announced the introduction of two critical bills designed to improve educational resources across Alaska for the next generation of job seekers.
The first of Begich’s bills, Counseling for Career Choice Act of 2013, would provide critical funding to allow school counselors to emphasize not just four-year college opportunities, but also target career prospects like apprenticeships, certificate programs, associate degrees and other vocational or degree programs.
“When it comes to education, Alaska has a unique set of needs – and they don’t always match up with those in the Lower 48,” Begich said. “This is a common-sense approach that gives our schools the resources they need to help guide Alaska’s youth and improve their opportunities for success in a 21st century economy.”
Begich will announce his legislation later today during a video teleconference with the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC). Organizations like the JEDC as well as other businesses and industries would benefit from Begich’s approach of comprehensive career counseling and an emerging workforce that is prepared for the future.
Brian Holst, executive director of the JEDC, said: “It takes more than just a good foundation in the basics, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), to ensure that young people are prepared for the future. With the fast pace of innovation and change in the world, young people need more guidance than ever to connect their interests and skills with future work opportunities. More robust career counseling for middle and high school students will pay dividends for both the students and our economy.”
The President of the National Education Association of Alaska, Ron Fuhrer, also weighed in on today’s announcement, stating: “NEA-Alaska fully supports Sen. Begich’s Counseling for Career Choice Act. We know that today, more than ever, school counselors play a significant role in the life of students. School counselors are especially helpful for those students whose parents have not previously attended post-secondary education. As our students face an ever-changing global economy, having both school counselors and the resources and materials to help students develop a career path after high school will be essential.”
Begich’s second bill, The Investing in Innovation for Education Act, is aimed at improving student achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment by strengthening the already successful Investing in Innovation (i3) program by moving it into permanent law.
“We need practical yet innovative solutions to make sure there are skilled and competent workers in Alaska’s workforce – and this bill does just that,” Begich said. “We must place a premium on workable, local solutions to the challenges facing our educational system and help keep our economy moving forward by ensuring every student has the ability to succeed.”
The bill also includes a 25 percent rural set-aside to help communities such as those in rural Alaska compete for funding so they can invest in ideas unique to rural states.
“NEA-Alaska thanks Senator Begich for his efforts on the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund. Our educators in rural Alaska are always working to develop innovative practices to improve student learning and high school graduation rates,” Fuhrer said. “Moving the i3 program into permanent law allows educators to continue their efforts to bring a high standard of education to the remotest areas of Alaska. Senator Begich’s efforts to ensure that all students in Alaska have an opportunity at an excellent public education is very much appreciated.”
The i3 bill promotes flexibility and “out-of-the-box” ideas by prioritizing grant recipients who:
• Improve the teaching and learning of STEM subjects;
• Serve schools in rural communities;
• Improve early learning outcomes;
• Support college access and success;
• Support family and community engagement; and
• Address the unique learning needs of students with disabilities or English learners.
Through the i3 program, school districts, groups of schools, educational service agencies, and community organizations would compete for funds through the i3 program to assist them in these efforts. Applicants are required, unless they have a waiver, to secure a private or nonprofit match of 20 percent. Fact sheets on both bills are attached.