Who should decide how much kids learn in school each year? The nationwide debate over that question rages on.

Should education goals be left up to states? To local school boards? To the U.S. Department of Education?

Former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and current President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top set national standards in several areas. That makes some sense, because today’s graduates may wind up anywhere in the country, so what you learn shouldn’t depend on where you went to school.

On the other hand, state and local school boards have a better understanding of local conditions and can tailor schooling to meet specific needs.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee always willing to propose new plans, especially for education, wants to remove federal mandates for learning. States would be allowed to set their own systems for accountability.

“The best way to help 50 million children in 100,000 public schools learn what they need to know and be able to do is to fix that responsibility squarely where it belongs — on parents, teachers, communities and states,” he said.

There is no denying that the push toward nationwide standards has raised the bar for education in Tennessee. That’s a good thing, and it’s not likely to have happened if we hadn’t been forced into it.

Tennessee currently has a temporary waiver from having to meet many of the requirements of the No Child Left Behind act.

Alexander would not totally abolish regional standards. His proposal would encourage states to cooperate toward “a national environment that would help them succeed.”

The senator is the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. With Democrats holding a majority in the Senate, his plan isn’t likely to be approved intact. But it will likely have some voice in the continuing debate.