A controversial policy known as the “parent trigger” law is being considered by Texas legislators with hopes of increasing parent involvement and fostering faster improvements in struggling schools.
Morgan Smith of The Texas Tribune writes that a Senate panel heard testimony last week on legislation that would allow parents with students attending poorly performing schools to campaign to make necessary changes including hiring new faculty, contracting with charter school operators to take over the administration of the school, or closing it entirely.
There was a version of the law passed in 2011, but it has scarcely been used since it applied only to schools that had been rated “unacceptable” by the state for five years or more. The current bill, Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-District 11), would shorten the number of years required before action could be taken to two.
“You take five years from an elementary school child? They’re never going to catch up,” said Taylor, R-Friendswood, who added that the bill provided a “viable way” for parents to advocate for their children.
Those who oppose the bill say that it creates conflict and can often mean turning the schools over to third-party charter management entities.
“Our concern on this bill is the profit motive that could be driven by some educational management organizations,” John Gray of the Texas State Teachers Association told senators on Thursday. “You are calling it a parent empowerment law, but looking at the for-profit motive, once those parents sign the petition they are done.”
California took the lead and passed the law in 2010, followed by Texas, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio. Parent Revolution, a group that has managed the implementation of the law in California, told Texas senators by way of its representative Gabe Rose that it had worked as a “powerful catalyst for district-parent partnerships.” Rose stated that at six schools parents had used the law to encourage changes, with only one of those resulting in outside charter school intervention.
Under the new bill, reports Kiah Collier of the American-Statesman, at least half the parents at a school would have to sign a petition to begin an overhaul, but the bill would shorten the timeline and improve the structure of the process. It includes four reform options: a reconstitution of the campus staff; converting the school to a college preparatory or fine arts academy; contracting an outside school operator to take over the management of the campus; or closing the school entirely. The measure was enthusiastically supported by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has made education one of his top priorities.
The Texas Parent Teacher Association is in favor of the bill, but, according to Associate Executive Director Darren Grissom, the group wants any charter operation that takes over a school to have been operating for more than three years and would like for-profit companies to be barred from being involved. Grissom added that the group believes that parents should be allowed to continue in the process after the initial reforms are completed, with which the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers agreed.
The groups that are supporting parent-trigger laws do have roots in the charter school movement, reports John Savage writing for the Texas Observer. Parent Revolution was founded by leaders from the charter school network Green Dot and is funded in large part by the Walton Family Foundation, which is also one of the country’s largest financial backers of charter schools.
Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said the bill opens the flood gates for the privatizing of public schools.
“This bill offers a false sense of empowerment for parents, because it actually would open the door for private charter chains and management entities to take over neighborhood schools with little or no accountability to these parents,” Malfaro said. “The only thing triggered here is the flow of money into private hands. We’ve offered a better way to empower parents, with the Community School model as a proven tool for school improvement, especially at struggling campuses.”
An article in the North Dallas Gazette says that Community Schools will provide services that reflect the needs identified by parents. Instead of private operators from outside the community, who will eventually take control out of the hands of the school boards, citizens, parents, and taxpayers, Community Schools empower parents, teachers, and community stakeholders. Community Schools’ services could include tutoring, enrichment activities, early college start programs; medical services like vision, dental, nutrition and mental health; and programs for parents like adult education, ESL classes, housing assistance and job training.