Harkin’s proposal also includes protections from bullying for gay students.

The one-size-fits-all national requirements of No Child Left Behind would give way to standards that states write for themselves under legislation introduced by senators of both parties last week, with one key difference: The Republican version of the bill would eliminate the Education Department’s role in overseeing the standards and give governors the final say.

In stark contrast, the Democrats’ version would mirror the NCLB waiver process already in place. As of press time, 37 states have received waivers to NCLB’s requirements in exchange for customized school improvement plans.

Introduced June 4, a 1,150-page proposal from Senate education committee chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, would require some of those states to tinker with their improvement plans and force the other remaining states to develop their own reform efforts. Education Secretary Arne Duncan still would have final say over those improvement plans, and schools still would have to measure students’ achievements.

Buried on page 694 of the legislation, Harkin’s proposal also includes protections for gay students. Schools that don’t take stern measures against bullying or discrimination against gays or lesbians would see their federal funding cut. Democrats likened the measure to Title IX, which forced schools to provide equal opportunities for female athletes under threat of penalty.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate education panel and a former education secretary himself, on June 6 rolled out the GOP’s version of NCLB renewal. Like the Democratic version, the Republican version includes provisions that let states write school improvement plans and scrap one-size-fits-all national requirements; however, it explicitly says Washington should have no role in what students learn.

(Next page: More details about the competing proposals)