U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski told state lawmakers Friday she will introduce bills in Washington to fund teacher housing in the Bush and give tax credits for stay-at-home parents.
It is Murkwoski's first address to the Legislature since she was appointed to the position in December by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski.
"Next week ... when I get back to Washington I'm going to be introducing legislation that would provide a $200-per-month tax credit to families with children under the age of 6 where the mother or the father have decided to leave the workplace to stay at home and raise their family," Murkowski said.
She said that although the tax credit would not fully offset the loss of income of a parent leaving the workplace it would recognize the economic sacrifice that is made by one in three families.
Murkowski told her former colleagues that U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige will tour schools in rural Alaska in May to determine if all of the "No Child Left Behind" provisions will apply to those schools.
State lawmakers have argued that some provisions of "No Child Left Behind" will be impossible to meet for some schools in rural areas that have few teachers and are not connected to the road system.
Murkowski said Paige would visit communities such as Bethel, Tuntutuliak and Nome.
"We want the secretary to understand what rural is in Alaska," she said. "... Rural in the rest of the world is you get on a long dusty, bumpy road and you get to a small little town and you go out the other end of the small little town and on another long and bumpy, dusty road and eventually you get somewhere. In Alaska that doesn't happen because you don't have the roads."
Schools in remote areas could be out of compliance with the federal education law because of provisions requiring teachers to have a college degree in each subject they teach. Many Bush schools have teachers that must teach multiple subjects.
Murkowski said the state needs to address the problem of recruiting and retaining teachers in rural schools.
"We've got to look at innovative ways that we can reduce the high turnover rate," she said. "In some parts of rural Alaska the teacher turnover rate is 100 percent every three years."
Murkowski said she would introduce legislation to create a federal funding stream for rural school districts to build and maintain housing for teachers who commit to long-term teaching contracts in the area.
Following the 40-minute speech, Murkowski took questions from members of the House and Senate.
Sen. Tom Wagoner, a Kenai Republican, asked Murkowski about long waits for checking luggage at airports in Kenai, Valdez and Homer. These airports were not provided with security services and baggage screening under the federal Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001.
"Well, you have pushed a hot button, senator, because I was in my wonderful birthplace of Ketchikan yesterday, and we have created a monster with (the Transportation Safety Administration) as is applies in Alaska," she said.
Murkowski called the TSA a government agency "run amok," noting that eventually there will be 100 TSA employees in Ketchikan.
"That will practically be the largest employer in Ketchikan," she said, noting that many of the employees were hired from outside Alaska.
She said that every bag at Ketchikan Airport must be opened and checked because they don't have the equipment to screen luggage.
"The intention is right, the goal is good, we all accept that with some level of security there might be some inconvenience, but this goes beyond inconvenience," she said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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