California Nears Final ‘Parent Trigger’ Regulations

Published August 2, 2011

California’s State Board of Education is on track to approve final, permanent regulations governing the state’s landmark Parent Trigger law at its September meeting. 

The state board on July 13 voted to approve the latest version of the rules, circulating the draft for another 15-day public comment period. The September vote is expected to be a formality.

Under the 2010 parent empowerment law, if at least half of eligible parents at a persistently failing school sign a petition requesting reform, the school district must undertake one of several prescribed “intervention models.” For example, parents may convert the school into an independent charter, which would operate with greater autonomy and fewer regulations. 

Other options include closing the school and allowing students to enroll in a higher-performing public school nearby; or implementing the “turnaround” and “transformation” models set forth under Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s education-reform program, which include replacing staff, extending school hours, and revising the curriculum. 

No Teacher Union Veto
The most controversial language of the enabling regulations was removed from the final draft. Under one version of the proposed language the board discussed in April, parents seeking to convert a school into an independent charter would have been required to obtain approval from at least half the school’s teachers. 

Representatives from the California Teachers Association argued the section of the state education code establishing the Parent Trigger did not amend the state’s charter school law, which requires teacher signatures for charter conversions but not startups. 

Board President Michael Kirst quickly dismissed the union’s objections.

“It’s called the parent empowerment act, not the teacher empowerment act, for a reason,” Kirst said.

Former State Sen. Gloria Romero, the Los Angeles Democrat who authored the Parent Trigger legislation in 2010, said a legislative counsel’s opinion left no doubt that her law did not require teachers’ approval or allow for a union veto.

“There is no need for parents to ask for permission from somebody else to improve their children’s education,” she said.

‘Clear Guidelines’
The permanent regulations spell out how parents may gather and submit signatures, and what school districts may—and may not—do to verify petitions and implement reforms. 

The state and local districts must announce when a school becomes eligible for the “trigger.” The California Department of Education will create a website offering more information on parent rights in the process, including a sample petition, translated materials, and more information on the turnaround options available.

Signature gatherers must disclose if they are paid, and they may not be paid per signature. The rules also bar districts from using school resources to oppose a petition drive.

Gabe Rose, deputy director of the Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, which vigorously supported the Parent Trigger law, praised the regulations. 

“There are always compromises, but these regulations give parents everything they need to organize,” Rose said. “These present clear guidelines to parents and to districts. Parents will be able to organize free from harassment. Districts will be able to comply with the law and avoid lawsuits.”

Parent Revolution last year helped parents in the south-central Los Angeles city of Compton circulate petitions to convert McKinley Elementary School into a charter school. A Los Angeles superior court judge in June ruled the petitions were invalid because they did not have a date box. 

Parent Unions Proliferate
If the board approves the final rules in September, the regulations will go to the state Office of Administrative Law for final vetting and publication. 

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Education could not say with certainty when the rules would take full effect, or when the website listing schools eligible under the law and offering model petitions for parents to download would be available.

Rose says his organization is not waiting for the final regulations to begin organizing “parent unions” across the state to mount petition drives. He says groups are forming in Pasadena, Carson, Lynwood, San Diego, Central Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area. 

“People are learning how to organize,” Rose said. “Once [the new school year] rolls around, we’ll see a lot more happening.”