Last week, Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, a bill to reauthorize (fancy word for “update and fix”) the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind.

The “mark-up” of the bill—when the HELP Committee votes on amendments and hopefully sends the bill to the full Senate—starts tomorrow.

The National Women’s Law Center supports this bill, and urges the Senate HELP Committee to further strengthen it during tomorrow’s mark-up.

Overall, the bill reaffirms the federal government’s critical and longstanding role in ensuring that all students in our country have equal educational opportunities, and takes important steps towards closing the wide and persistent achievement gaps between subgroups of students.

A few of the bill’s highlights connected to the Center’s work:

  • The bill contains improved provisions for data reporting, requiring the data reported for each subgroup to be further broken down by gender,to ensure the needs of subgroups of boys and girls are not masked by stereotypes and interventions can be better targeted.
  • The bill instructs states and school districts to describe in their education plans how they will improve the enrollment, attendance, and success of pregnant and parenting students in school, and requires them to report non-personally identifiable data on their enrollment, achievement, and graduation rates.
  • It promotes a positive school climate, in which all students can learn and thrive. It includes strong measures to effectively address bullying and harassment in schools including—at long last—harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • The bill includes measures that will curb excessivedisciplinarypractices that disproportionately push students of color out of school and fuel the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • It requires that funds granted for science and math improvements increase access to high-quality courses for girls and other students who are underrepresented in STEM fields.

Of course, the bill isn’t perfect, and – among other things, like an even stronger accountability framework and more robust language about the “birth to college and career” pathway – we wanted it to include the High School Data Transparency Act, which would require high schools to publicly report basic data on how many girls and boys are playing sports and how much money schools are spending on their teams. Colleges are required to disclose this information, and high schools already collect these data so it’s just a matter of making it available so that parents, students and coaches can hold their schools accountable if they are not providing equal opportunities.

The high school athletics data provisions will be offered by Senator Murray as an amendment tomorrow, and hopefully the Committee will approve that language and help to ensure that many more girls get the chance to reap the benefits of playing sports. Girls comprise about half of all high school students, but they receive 1.3 million fewer participation opportunities than boys. And research shows that girls who play sports are more likely to graduate from high school, have higher grades, score higher on standardized tests, and experience greater success in the workforce.

Stay tuned for further updates!