Legislation introduced to help ensure safer schools

Yesterday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced legislation in the Senate that would create legal protections for LGBT students against harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence in school. The bill, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, would extensively amend the No Child Left Behind Act of 2011 (also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA) and includes the language of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which prohibits discrimination against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. SNDA was also introduced in the Senate yesterday by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stated:

The epidemic of discrimination and bullying in our nation’s schools is an outrage. No student should fear getting beaten up, harassed or targeted for discriminatory treatment simply because of who they are. For students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — or simply thought to be — this is a very painful, dangerous and daily reality. Parents, educators, policymakers — all of us — need to be part of the solution to ensure our young people have a safe and fair learning environment. The Student Non-Discrimination Act will help get us there, and we thank Senator Franken for his leadership on this issue and urge swift passage of this critical bill

SNDA provides for two key enforcement mechanisms. First, SNDA authorizes federal departments and agencies to enforce nondiscrimination by cutting funding to recipients found to be in violation. Second, SNDA creates a cause of action for individuals to sue schools that fail to prohibit discrimination.
In the current Congress, SNDA has been introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO-2) in the House, where it has 150 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. In the last Congress, SNDA had 171 cosponsors in the House and 39 cosponsors in the Senate. In the 111th Congress, SNDA had 126 cosponsors in the House and 31 cosponsors in the Senate.

The ESEA was first enacted in 1965 during the President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The far-reaching statute funds primary and secondary education and was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act. Senator Harkin will hold a markup of the bill, which has been co-sponsored by every Democratic member of the HELP Committee, starting next Tuesday, June 11th.