New State Board Members Could Jeopardize California Parent Trigger Rules

Published January 12, 2011

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s seven appointments to the state board of education could undermine permanent regulations for the state’s year-old parent trigger law, say a recent board member and a former state senator who authored the legislation.

Brown’s appointees, announced one day after the Democrat governor took office, replace a bloc of reformists appointed in 2010 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).  Among those ousted were board president Ted Mitchell and Ben Austin, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution.

“California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittleman—the same man who called the parent trigger the ‘lynch mob provision’—confidently predicted to the media that Gov. Brown would immediately remove me from the state board because I had used my position to advocate for radical kids-first change,” said Austin. “It turns out he was right.” 

“Unfortunately, in the governor’s first full day in office, he chose to stand with the state’s most powerful interest group that spent millions to elect him, rather than the parents and children of California,” Austin said.

Board ‘Needs Time to Study’
Under the parent trigger law, if at least half of eligible parents at a failing school sign a petition, the school district must 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” or “transformation” models of reform set forth by federal Race to the Top regulations.

The draft parent trigger regulations under consideration by the board specify how petitions must be formatted, who’s qualified to sign, how quickly a school district must act on a valid petition, and how parents may appeal hostile district decisions.

Michael Kirst, an emeritus professor at Stanford University and Brown’s top education policy advisor during the campaign, is expected to replace Mitchell as the board’s president.

Asked about the permanent parent trigger regulations pending before the board, Kirst replied in a brief e-mail the “board needs to study this issue and will defer it until February. We have seven new members who need more time to understand it.”

‘No Coincidence Here’
Gloria Romero, the former Democratic chairwoman of the California State Senate Education Committee and author of the state’s parent trigger law, says she’s disappointed with the governor’s decision to oust the current board just before the critical vote on permanent regulations.

“After a year-long debate and dialogue and public input, lots of testimony, essentially the majority of the board that had supported progressive reforms in education like Race to the Top, the parent trigger, open enrollment, and a number of issues, this [pro-reform] majority was sacked,” Romero said. “There was no coincidence here.”

Gabe Rose, assistant director of Parent Revolution, called the appointments the “first test of what kind of governor Brown will be.”

“He’s catering to special interests over kids,” Rose said.

As for the parent trigger regulations, Rose said the draft permanent regulations have been in the works since September. The board passed temporary, “emergency” regulations last summer. The final regulations have met with repeated delays, as stakeholder groups including the CTA and the California School Boards Association have asked for more input, claiming the rulemaking process had been rushed.

“Only in California crazy-bureaucracy land could this be considered rushed,” Rose said.

Attorney General May Investigate
The state board in December voted to postpone a vote on the regulations and added an additional 15 days of public comment. At the same meeting, Mitchell called on then-Attorney General Brown to investigate alleged threats and intimidation against parents in Compton who refused to sign a parent trigger petition.

Schwarzenegger also wrote a letter to the attorney general, asking for a probe of alleged misconduct and misinformation on the part of Compton Unified School District officials against parent-trigger petition supporters.

Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), who took office on Jan. 3, had not acted on requests for an official investigation at press time.

Brown’s other picks for the state school board include Carl Cohn, former superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District; Trish Williams, director of; Patricia Ann Rucker, chief lobbyist for California Teachers Association; Aida Molina, a public school administrator in Bakersfield; James Ramos, a San Bernardino Community College trustee; and Ilene Straus, a Beverly Hills Unified assistant superintendent.

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