Senate introduces No Child Left Behind successor

WASHINGTON – The one-sized-fits-all national requirements of No Child Left Behind would give way to standards that states write for themselves under legislation Senate Democrats announced Tuesday.

The state-by-state approach to education standards is already largely in place in the 37 states that received waivers to the requirements in exchange for customized school improvement plans. The 1,150-page proposal from Senate education committee chairman Tom Harkin would require some of those states to tinker with their improvement plans and force the other remaining states to develop their own reform efforts. Education Secretary Arne Duncan would still have final say over those improvement plans, and schools would still have to measure students’ achievements.

Buried on page 694 of the legislation, the proposal also includes protections for gay students. Schools that don’t take stern measures against bullying or discrimination against gays or lesbians would see their federal funding cut. Democrats likened the measure to Title IX, which forced schools to provide equal opportunities for female athletes under threat of penalty.

The proposal faces an uphill climb.

A politically polarized Congress has failed to renew No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, since it expired in 2007. Harkin’s Republican counterpart, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, has supported updating No Child Left Behind but his approach has not always melded with Harkin’s.

Those differences are likely to come into full view on June 11 when the education committee begins to fine tune the legislation.

A vote by the full Democratic-controlled Senate has not been scheduled and Democratic aides suggested it could be autumn before one occurs.