The Texas House will vote on a bill to simplify the state’s Parent Trigger law and let parents petition earlier to take control of a school’s future.
Sponsored by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Senate Bill 1263 passed the House, then the Senate Education Committee unanimously March 28 and is likely to have a favorable reception in the Senate, said James Golsan, education policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“Texas is always extremely cautious about any education reform,” Golsan said. “So we basically added a law to the books, got our foot in the door, but it’s not really a law that anyone would have much incentive to use.”
That powerlessness frustrates grassroots leader Rev. Kyev Tatum, who hails from Dallas-Fort Worth.
“All the parents that I work with across the state just want help, and they want freedom,” he said. “They have no kind of relief or appeal process and have no leverage within the system.”
‘Too Long for Parents’
Texas’s current Parent Trigger law allows the state to reorganize a public school or convert it to a charter if it’s rated “academically unacceptable” for three consecutive years. If the school’s rating does not improve within two years after state intervention, parents can petition to close the school or convert it to a charter school.
“This is too long for parents, and more importantly students, to put up with a failing school before they may demand action,” Taylor said.
After the initial law passed, the Texas Parents Union worked with California’s Parent Revolution, a community organizing group that supports the Parent Trigger, to pattern a bill more closely on California’s 2011 Parent Trigger, including an expedited timeline and short list of action options once parents petitioned.
SB 1263 would give parents the right to petition to close or convert a school after it has been rated “academically unacceptable” for two years.
The Testing Distraction
At the forefront of Texas’ legislative session is the state’s ongoing standards and testing battle, putting school choice in the back seat, potentially to the benefit of Parent Trigger supporters, Golsan said.
“Relative to standards fighting, school choice has been far less polarizing,” Golsan said. “The testing [uproar] really bogged down everything else.”
The Texas House recently passed a bill to reduce state testing requirements from 15 tests to five for students to graduate high school. School ratings, heavily dependent on test scores, are key to parents’ ability to use a Parent Trigger. Changes to the current rating system will shift how and when Texas parents can use the Parent Trigger.
Promoting the Parent Trigger and reducing standardized tests are somewhat in conflict, said Matt Prewett, founder of the Texas Parents Union, a grassroots parent group.
“The Parent Trigger would only mean something if that school was really failing, but the problem is, every high-poverty Texas school was being rated as failing due to standardized testing,” Prewett said.
Three Years to Wait
Although Texas is often represented as “a strong Republican state with strong values that creates this enterprise,” Tatum said, its education system does not live up to this ideal.
“Right now, the public schools are the only game in town, and the charter schools have the same burdens as public schools,” Tatum said. “The public school system has the upper hand when you’re dealing with politics, because they have an enormous amount of cash flow [for] lobbying. This has to be about the fundamental [goal], giving every child access to a quality education.”
Under SB 1263, school boards would maintain their ability to submit a competing plan for reform to the Commissioner of Education, who would decide whether to implement theirs or the parents’ plan, Taylor said.
“No parent has three years to wait,” Tatum said. “Three years is the difference between life and death in a kid’s education process and their spirit.”
‘Move Out of the Way’
“The state should treat K-12 kids the same way it treats college kids,” Tatum said. “They provide the funds based on need. They let the kids and the parents choose which school they go to. The government has to provide the resources and move out of the way.”
It may be difficult for charter management organizations to monitor Parent Trigger schools because of their obligations elsewhere and low state charter school funding, Prewett said.
“Rather than look at failing schools, I’d like to look at failing situations,” he said. “If we want to prioritize failing schools, if we say that high-poverty or failing schools, if those are schools we want to prioritize for parents to have other options, we could provide parents with more money.”
Likelihood of Passage
The infighting over testing, and the Senate Education Committee’s backing of the bill, give it momentum this session, Golsan said.
“Our House can be an entirely different story,” Golsan said. “It would be hard to tell at this point how they will take it. They are much more favorable toward public school choice than private school choice, so on that front I’d be more optimistic.”
Taylor said he has received positive responses to the bill from colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
“Since we already have a Parent Trigger provision in statute and our bill is a simple change to that, I feel that we will have wide acceptance,” Taylor said.
Image by Neighborhood Centers Inc.