Mayors of cities around the country are the latest group to come out in support of measures that would give parents a greater voice in how the education system is run. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, during their annual conference in Orlando, Florida, endorsed the efforts to pass parent-trigger laws that allow parents to take control over failing schools and force immediate program and personnel changes. Standing in the way of the passage pf such laws are the teachers unions, which have opposed efforts to give parents more say and control in local education politics.
There is broad support for parent trigger laws, with Democratic mayors like Los Angeles’s Antonio Villaraigosa and Chicago’s Rahm Emmanuel showing the same enthusiasm for the measure as Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson. Johnson was the leader behind the the parent trigger conference vote.
Some form of legal framework to allow parents to take control of failing schools is already in place in California, Texas, and Louisiana, but so far there have not been any successful attempts by parents to take control of schools. Parent Revolution, a group representing the interests of California parents is currently locked in a legal battle with district officials in an attempt to put the local parent trigger law to the test. The parents’ struggle is due to be recreated on the movie screen this summer in a film called “Won’t Back Down,” starring Maggie Gylenhaal. The film’s funding is provided by Walden Media, the same company that funded the successful pro-charter-school documentary “Waiting for Superman.”
For their part, mayors may have jumped on the bandwagon because parent trigger fits neatly with two of their key goals, said Kenneth Wong, a political scientist focused on education policy at Brown University.
“Mayors are moving in a new direction on education, one that’s more consumer oriented… and focused on serving parents and giving them choices,” Wong said. Facing tight budgets and huge pension liabilities, many mayors are also looking to rein in the power of teachers unions and force them to accept more austere contracts, Wong said.
The widening support for parent trigger laws could be seen as another setback for teachers unions, traditionally strong allies of Democratic lawmakers that have lately begun to lose their legislative clout. Ever since the Wisconsin unions’ failure to recall governor Scott Walker, some have claimed that their influence in policy matters has diminished.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa blasted union leaders as an “unwavering roadblock to reform.” In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter has backed a plan to close dozens of neighborhood schools and convert many others to charters, which are publicly funded but privately run – and typically non-union.