California Ed. Board Moves to Approve ‘Parent Trigger’ Rules

Published March 21, 2011

In an apparent policy reversal, California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst announced plans to accelerate the timetable for approving permanent regulations for the state’s landmark Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the Parent Trigger.

Kirst says the board’s April 21 meeting would be devoted exclusively to discussing final rules governing the 2010 law. He indicated a working group formed in February by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson should have recommendations for the board by early April.

Temporary Rules Extended
“The board will engage in a thoughtful process to develop regulatory guidance that will allow parents and school districts to make full use of the Parent Empowerment law,” Kirst said, reading from a prepared statement.

“I applaud the parents who traveled to Sacramento and testified before the board,” Kirst added, referring to more than 100 parents from Southern California who traveled overnight by bus to speak before the board on behalf of the law. “Parental involvement is a key element for the success of all students. I know that their input will help guide the board in its work on this issue.”

The board also voted 10-1 to extend temporary regulations the board passed last year for an additional 90 days. Patricia Rucker, the chief lobbyist for the California Teachers Association, was the sole dissenting vote.

Reportedly Three-Dozen Petitions
Under California’s law, if at least half of the eligible parents at a failing school sign a petition, the school district must adopt one of a handful of reform strategies: Shut down the school and allow students to enroll in higher-performing public schools nearby; convert the school into an independent charter; or implement the “turnaround,” “transformation,” or “alternative governance” models of reform set forth by federal Race to the Top regulations.

“The meeting on February 9 was a learning and listening session for the board,” Kirst said. “As such, the board took no action on regulations nor did the board support legislation to amend the Parent Empowerment law.”

Although there is no official count, Sherry Griffith of the Association of California School Administrators told the board as many as three-dozen parent petitions may be circulating in districts throughout the state. State law caps the number of schools that may be “triggered” at 75.

The first Parent Trigger petition by parents from the Los Angeles city of Compton was rejected last month by the school board, which cited technical violations. A lawsuit by parents against the school district is pending in Los Angeles Superior Court.

‘Fifth Intervention’ Questioned
New board member Carl Cohn, the former superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District, pointed to a section of the Parent Trigger law referring to alternate governance as a possible “fifth intervention” districts could employ in response to a parent petition.

“Hypothetically, I could say, as superintendent of Long Beach Unified, I am personally going to supervise this school,” Cohn said. “That could be an appropriate response under this statute.”

Debbie Statlin, a parent from the Los Angeles suburb of Sunland, said the fifth option worried her. “That should only be available if parents want it, not for a superintendent to insert himself and override parents,” she told the board.

Griffith, however, said alternate governance held “great promise” for schools with elected school-site councils, where parents advise administrators.

Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

Parent Trigger Legislation in Other States

The Colorado House Education Committee on March 14 voted down the Rocky Mountain State’s proposed Parent Trigger law. HB 11-1270, by freshman Rep. Don Beezley (R-Broomfield), would have empowered 51 percent of parents at a failing school to petition to either close the school or convert it to a charter or special innovation school.

Two Republicans, including freshman Rep. Robert Ramirez (R-Westminster) and Education Committee Chairman Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs), joined six Democrats in voting against the bill, which was defeated 8-5.

The Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Boards, and Colorado Association of School Executives opposed the bill. The Colorado Association of Charter Schools testified in support.

Legislators in Texas introduced two different parent empowerment bills for consideration. HB 3339 by Rep. James White (R- Hillister) would let parents at a school graded “unacceptable” for two consecutive years petition to convert the school to an independent charter. Currently, 188 schools would qualify.

An early draft of White’s bill had included a provision allowing parents to obtain vouchers to send their children to a public or private school of their choice. The language was removed before White filed the bill on March 11.

HB 3466 by Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) is similar to White’s bill in defining what schools would qualify for a petition. The language differs, however, in specifying how a school board may respond.

Bob Schoolfield, chairman of Texans for Parental Choice in Education, said Patrick’s legislation is “a fake parent trigger” because it gives school districts too much leeway to reject parents’ petitions and includes no appeal process.

In Missouri, Rep. Timothy Jones (R-Eureka) introduced House Bill 393, the Parent Empowerment and Choice Act. Parents at a failing school would have three options for reform if 51 percent sign a petition: Close the school and reopen with a new principal and staff; convert the school to an independent charter; or allow parents to send their children to a high-performing public school nearby or a private school with a voucher.

HB 393 awaits a hearing in the House Education Committee.

—Ben Boychuk