ESEA Revision Proposal Would Tie Funding to LGBT Protections

A 1,150-page revision to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, more commonly known as No Child Left Behind, was released by Senate Democrats on Tuesday. In the proposed rewrite of the law governing the nation’s elementary schools and secondary schools are protections for gay and lesbian students, reported Associated Press writer, Philip Elliot.

The revision includes student nondiscrimination language. If it passes, schools’ funding would be put in jeopardy if gay and lesbian students are bullied or harassed.

“This is a significant moment for our nation’s education system and one that addresses the vital needs of all students in K-12 schools,” said Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. “We are thrilled that the Senate is moving to address the long overdue issue of school bullying and harassment. This bill includes critical components to ensure safer learning environments.”

Under the revision, any program that received federal education dollars must ban discrimination against students who are gay, or who are perceived as gay. Schools who do not enforce this and tolerate such behavior are subject to funding cuts.

The protections are only a small part of the bill that proponents say gives states greater flexibility to improve schools.

According to the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, 29% of student ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied in school or online. The statistics do not specify the cause of bullying, which is defined as name-calling, physical harm, rumors or exclusion from activities.

The ESEA rewrite would allow states to develop their own standards as opposed to the one-size-fits all approach under No Child Left Behind. The outline would need to be approved by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

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. Some of those states already operating under waivers would have to tinker with their improvement plans to comply with the proposal. Other states would be forced to develop their own reform efforts.

The revision will be an uphill battle, especially with the expected lack of support from Republicans on several fronts including the provisions on the LGBT community.

The law has not been renewed since it expired in 2007 due to a politically polarized Congress. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has supported updating the law, as have several colleagues on his side of the aisle, but his approach has found little common ground with Democrat counterparts.