Georgia Legislature Considering Parent Trigger Measure

Georgia parents will have more of a voice in their children's education if the the current push by certain policy advocates comes to fruition. Groups in the state want to emulate the example set by California by instituting a "parent trigger" law that would allow students' families, and even in some cases the schools' teachers, to take over failing public schools and change the way they are being run.

So far, those kinds of measures remain controversial, and their success is so far unclear. Mainly, that comes from paucity of examples. According to The Florida Times-Union, the "trigger" has been pulled only three times so far, and the final outcomes won't be known for months, and even years.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke out against such laws in a recent editorial, saying that while parental engagement is a vital tool in improving educational outcomes for students, the parent trigger laws provide a poor mechanism for that. True involvement comes not from attempts to take over the process entirely, but from working together with school administrators and staff to improve the quality of education for everyone.

It's the latest front in the school choice movement. Yet whether the policy — some form of which is already on the books in seven states — actually improves education outcomes remains unknown. Parents have used the new power just three times, all in California — with the most recent action occurring this week. So that leaves legislative debates, certain to play out in at least a half-dozen more states this year, to fall along the same familiar lines as battles over vouchers and charter schools.

After California passed a parent trigger measure in 2010, Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, Mississippi, Connecticut and Indiana have all put similar laws on their books.

State representative Ed Lindsey, who is sponsoring the trigger measure in Georgia, says that this isn't about stripping down public education, but about empowering a group of people who are most invested in the education of their children. Like other supporters of such laws, Lindsey believes that the net result of putting power into the hands of the parents will do children good and put schools on notice about who it is that they truly have to answer to.

The first time it was used came in California's Compton Unified School District, where parents wanted to convert a failing elementary school to a charter. Petition signers met with bitter opposition from teachers and administrators. The district fought the reformers in court to invalidate the petition and succeeded when a judge dismissed the petition because signatures lacked dates. However, reformers claimed victory after the proposed charter operator opened a school nearby — the first ever in Compton.

Since then, there has been a successful attempt to take over a school in Adelanto, CA and an ongoing process that recently received approval in Los Angeles.

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