Maine Introduces Parent Empowerment Legislation

Published April 25, 2011

Maine is the latest to join at least 15 state legislatures considering a bill to establish a Parent Trigger law, empowering parents of children at failing public schools to petition for reforms.

State Rep. Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) is the author of the Maine House bill, designated LD 1417, “An Act to Enhance Parental Roles in Education Choice.”

Flexibility Is a Goal

Volk’s bill, modeled after California’s 2010 Parent Empowerment Act, would require implementation of school-level reforms if half of the eligible parents at a school designated “program improvement” for three years under No Child Left Behind “petition for the restructuring of a school that is not making adequate yearly progress.”

Restructuring may include transferring students to another school, reopening the institution as a charter school, replacing school leadership and granting greater flexibility in choosing teachers and curriculum, or implementing a “turnaround strategy” with greater state oversight.

Cosponsors of the bill include Senator Garrett Mason (R-Lisbon Falls) and Reps. Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough), Beth O’Connor (R-Berwick), Melvin Newendyke (R-Litchfield), and Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea).

“The bill was intentionally drafted in short form,” explained Volk. If passed, LD 1417 would allow “the Commissioner of Education great flexibility in developing rules to apply the core concept to Maine-specific circumstances,” she said.

Parents ‘Back in the Equation’
Ken Capron, chairman of the Maine Center for Constitutional Studies (MCCS), says Volk’s bill “is all about choice, and parental choice of the education path of their children.”

“The trigger puts parents back in the equation,” Capron said.

Although the political climate in Maine is volatile after a recent Republican takeover of both houses of the state legislature, Capron says the Parent Trigger is essentially nonpartisan. As in many other states, fiscal issues are front and center. Capron says he is hopeful this year will yield real and substantial progress in educational reform. 

Capron says advancing parent choice should be a legislative priority. “The government would like you to believe they know better what’s best for your kids,” he said.  “We need to put education back in the hands of parents.”

Bipartisan Origins
Although Volk’s bill currently has no Democratic cosponsors, a prominent Democrat wrote the California law upon which her legislation is based.

“I’m as Democrat as you can get,” said Gloria Romero, the former chairwoman of the California State Senate’s education committee.

“Feudalism ended a long time ago, but we are bound still by the land when it comes to education,” explained Romero, who now directs the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform. “Schools don’t have to respond to their customer base, because in K-12 you’re stuck based on your ZIP code.”

“The system isn’t built to change, the force to change has to come from the outside from those who want change—and that is parents,” Romero said. “We’re going beyond involvement. Parents should be the CEOs and architects of their children’s future.”

Ashley Trim ([email protected]) writes from Los Angeles, California.