Franken touts education bill, amendments

From MPR’s Tom Weber:

Sen. Al Franken said Tuesday he’s still hopeful Congress will approve a bipartisan replacement for the No Child Left Behind law.

The Minnesota DFLer sits on the Senate education committee, which forwarded its bill last week to the full Senate. But even if the Senate passes the bill, it’s unclear whether it could be reconciled with the Republican-controlled House version.

In an interview with MPR News, Franken said the Senate’s work should push the House.

“I think that our bill, by virtue of actually being a good bill and a very important bill and one that had bi-partisan support, will put pressure on the House to come up with something that’s also bipartisan and that also makes a lot of positive steps toward taking what was an irrational system and making it rational,” Franken said

The Senate bill would drop a controversial measurement called “adequate yearly progress.” Some Republicans have said there would still be too much federal control over education. A Senate vote is expected by year’s end.

Franken toured Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis Tuesday to discuss education.

Franken successfully offered four amendments to the education bill during last week’s Senate committee deliberations. They would:

- Allow states to use computer-adaptive testing that includes questions above and below grade level (Minnesota used computer adaptive this year on the MCA math test, but questions had to remain within grade level)

- Create competitive grants aimed at placing principal candidates in high-need and rural schools along with a mentor principal (Franken wants funding to come from existing budgeted resources).

- Bolster laws that allow foster children to stay in the same school, even if they move to a new home outside that school or district’s boundary.

- Clarify that districts would not have to force teachers to transfer schools in the name of equalizing funding between higher and lower-income schools.

One bill Franken didn’t push for in committee was a measure protecting gay and lesbian students from discrimination. The DFLer withdrew the measure from committee consideration, even though he believes he would have had enough votes to approve it, because he says he was told it could be a “poison pill” that doomed the entire No Child Left Behind reauthorization.

Franken said he will now try to attached the so-called Student Non-Discrimination Act on the Senate floor, where he’ll need 60 votes.

“We know the seven Republicans that I’d have to pick up are, and I’ve actually talked to, I think, every one of those seven,” Franken said. “I have reason to believe that all of them may end up supporting it.”

The measure would guarantee federal protections for LGBT students the way the Civil Rights Act protects people of color. Franken wants it added to whatever replaces the No Child Left Behind education law.

That floor debate has not yet been scheduled. But even if it passes the Senate, its chances are less certain in the GOP-led House. Minnesota Rep. John Kline, a Republican, chairs the House Education committee and has not included any such discrimination language so far.

Also on Tuesday, Franken and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley asked the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to determine whether so-called “stalking apps” for smart phones are legal.

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