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Senate Committee Fails to Approve Office of Rural Ed.

A proposed amendment to create an Office of Rural Education in the U.S. Department of Education failed Wednesday.

The issue came up during the Senate Education Committee's discussion of a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The group passed that legislation on a party-line vote.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., proposed the amendment for a rural education office. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., argued that if it passed it would open the door to other similar offices. The Council of the Great City Schools would want an urban office, and others would want one for their respective geographic areas, he said, according to my EdWeek colleague Alyson Klein, who reported on the hearing for the Politics K-12 blog. The amendment failed 11-11; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., crossed over to vote with Republicans to defeat it.

Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, R-Alaska, who was among those voted down the amendment, said during the hearing that Alaska's rural conditions are far more extreme than those elsewhere.

"What I would hope is that within the Department of Education that we have individuals that are truly from rural areas, not people who live in the city, work in the city, and raise their kids in the city and make policy, hoping that it's not going to negatively impact our students and schools in rural areas," she said "I am worried that by putting the emphasis here in Washington, that we are not going to get the impact that we are hoping for."

After voting it down, she said she would work with Bennet to address their shared concerns. She said such an office would have added more burdensome reporting requirements to rural schools that are already stressed.

But some Democrats disagreed. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who co-sponsored the amendment, said in a news release that the proposal was a recognition of the unique challenges rural schools faced.

"Investing in these schools by providing them access to the same services available to schools in more urban areas will ensure all of Wisconsin's students have a fair shot at a quality education," she said.

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