Education bill bound for Senate floor

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

A bill to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act is bound for the U.S. Senate floor with a provision requiring school districts receiving federal funding to prohibit bullying and harassment.

Left behind in the committee room, however, was a proposal from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., that the legislation specifically prohibit bullying and harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identify or religion.

The bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – more commonly known as No Child Left Behind – passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee by a vote of 15-7 on Oct. 20 following 10 months of negotiations.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairs the committee. He said the bill “will ensure that students graduate from school ready for college and careers and focus federal resources where they will be most effective. It will replace punitive sanctions and labels with supports for teaching and learning, increase flexibility for innovation on the local level, and distribute resources equitably to ensure a top-notch education for every American student.”

Casey said that while he was pleased with the committee vote, the measure needs more work.

The bill includes an amendment by Casey to support state efforts to improve instruction in the arts, foreign languages, history, civics, economics, financial literacy, health education, environmental education, physical education and social studies. It also includes Casey’s proposal to require school districts with federal funding to implement student conduct policies prohibiting bullying and harassment.

But lacking in the legislation are specific protections based on the Safe Schools Improvement Act that Casey introduced a year ago with support from the American Association of School Administrators, the National Education Association and numerous other education and human rights groups.

In October, which was National Bullying Prevention Month, the NEA urged elected officials and school administrators to step up anti-bullying efforts.

According to NEA research, 98 percent of school employees believe it is their job to intervene when they see bullying happening in their school. More than half of those surveyed indicated they witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month. 

Casey said last week he would push to amend the bill on the Senate floor.