Tennessee Democrat Proposes Parent Trigger Bill

Published February 12, 2013

A Parent Trigger bill that aims to give parents more influence in their children’s schools is making its way through the Tennessee legislature.

Filed by Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis), the bill would allow a petition by the majority of parents at schools performing in the state’s bottom 20 percent to trigger one of several reforms. Petitioning parents could choose conversion to a charter school, replacing the principal, replacing at least half the staff, or closing the school.

House Bill 77 would replace several provisions in state law, including lowering the petition threshold from 60 percent of parents to 51 percent. It also allows parents to bring their petition to the state board of education if the local school board rejects it. This lets parents push for reform even if the school district resists to protect underperforming administrators’ or teachers’ jobs and salaries, DeBerry told School Reform News.

“Too often the local school board is about the maintenance of the status quo,” he said. “[Parents] can’t fix the school, they can’t fix the curriculum, they can’t do anything with the authorities. The parents are powerless.”

‘Faux’ Parent Trigger
Tennessee’s existing law is a “faux” Parent Trigger, said Brent Easley, Tennessee director of Students First, a nonprofit that worked with DeBerry and advocacy group Parent Revolution to craft the legislation.

The bill gives parents more power over their children’s education, he said. Currently, parents have little power in their school districts.

“Parents know what’s best for their children,” Easley said. The legislation’s goal is to help parents ensure their kids are not forced to attend bad schools simply because of where they live, he added.

Multiple Options for Parents
The appeal provision would give parents equal political power to administrators and teachers, which is important because parents have no incentive but their child’s best interests, whereas school districts and teachers have many motivations, said Ryan Donohue, a spokesman for Parent Revolution.

Allowing options other than just charter conversion is also important, Donahue said, because that is not the best answer for every school.

In California, which passed the first Parent Trigger law in the country in 2010, the law has given power to parents whose petitions previously went ignored for years, notes David Phelps, Parent Revolution’s communications director.

Negotiating Tool
At 24th Street Elementary in Los Angeles, parents had unsuccessfully petitioned for reforms for four years. Now, with the parent trigger law behind them, the parents have filed a new petition and the school is now working with parents to meet their requests.

“Now if they follow the steps outlined in California law, legally [parents] have every right to succeed and bring about change,” Phelps said.

At Haddon Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles, the school district offered to meet parents’ demands before parents filed their petition, so parents have put their petition on hold.

“We’re seeing the Parent Trigger law can both be an action and a negotiating tool,” Phelps said.


Image by Russ Robinson.