LGBT-inclusive education reform bill, SNDA introduced in U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced legislation Tuesday to re-authorise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with language that includes protections for LGBT students.

Under the bill, schools that don’t take strong measures against bullying or discrimination against LGBT students would see their federal funding reduced or eliminated.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin

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 aligned 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.

Lawmakers in the Republican-led House, meanwhile, were reluctant to take steps that could be seen as telling local schools how to best teach their student s and enrage tea party activists.

One of the principal aims of this law is to rewrite the one-sized-fits-all national requirements of the “No Child Left Behind” standards allowing states to write requirements for themselves under the proposed law.

Harkin acknowledged criticism of “No Child Left Behind’s” requirements as “setting inflexible benchmarks without considering the different needs of schools and without recognizing student progress. Instead, the bill would offer states greater flexibility to improve students’ education.

The proposal “gets the federal government out of the business of micromanaging schools and instead enables states and districts to focus on turning around chronically struggling schools and those with significant achievement gaps.”

While the LGBT provisions remain a small part of Harkin’s bill, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) as a stand alone measure Tuesday.

“No child should dread going to school because they don’t feel safe,” said Franken.

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“Our nation’s civil rights laws protect our children from bullying due to race, sex, religion, disability, and national origin,” Franken said. “My proposal extends these protections to our gay and lesbian students who shouldn’t ever feel afraid of going to school. I’m also pleased my provision is now a part of the education bill that will soon be debated in the Senate Education Committee.”

SNDA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year by Reps. Jared Polis, (D-Colo.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

In a recent survey of LGBT youth conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, LGBT youth are twice as likely to experience verbal harassment, exclusion and physical attack at school as their non-LGBT peers.

According to the report, 64 percent of LGBT teens (compared to just 47 percent of non-LGBT teens) report that they never participate in after-school or other recreational activities out of fear of discrimination.

SNDA is closely modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and provides legal recourse to redress such discrimination.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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