By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two senior U.S. senators released a bipartisan proposal on Tuesday that would shrink federal influence on U.S. elementary and secondary education, keeping a mandate for annual tests, but letting U.S. states decide how to use the results.
The proposal is a rewrite of No Child Left Behind, a law signed in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush. It required that U.S. children take annual standardized tests, and sanctioned schools that do not meet performance targets.
The law was intended to help children do better in school by setting high standards and increasing teacher accountability, but it was criticized as too test-focused and too punitive after struggling schools lost students and funding.
Senator Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate's education committee, and Senator Patty Murray, its top Democrat, negotiated for months to produce the bill announced Tuesday. They said there would be a committee vote on it next Tuesday.
The proposal keeps the No Child Left Behind requirements that states have to test every student annually in math and reading in grades 3-8, and once in high school, according to a summary released by the committee.
The bill restores to states, instead of the federal government, the responsibility for determining what to do about struggling schools, the summary said.
The bill also says the federal government cannot mandate or incentivize states to maintain any particular standards, such as
"Common Core" -- a set of academic standards developed by state education chiefs but promoted by the federal government with funding as an incentive.
The bill ensures federal money may be used for pre-school programs by clarifying that states, school districts and schools can spend federal dollars to improve early childhood education programs, the summary said. This was important to Murray, a former pre-school teacher.
While the bill's bipartisan nature is a good sign for its Senate future, it is unclear what will happen in the House. There a rewrite of No Child Left Behind was pulled from the chamber's floor in February after conservatives said it did not do enough to let states opt out of the law.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell. Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Andre Grenon)