‘Parent trigger’ would convert public schools
By TOM LoBIANCO The Associated Press January 21, 2012 6:16PM
Updated: February 23, 2012 8:23AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana parents could soon have a direct say in turning public schools into charter schools. A measure being pushed in the Indiana House of Representatives would let them vote to turn public schools over to charter school operators.
The idea is part of a national wave that started in Los Angeles in 2009 and has been considered in statehouses nationwide over the last two years.
“It gives parents the option, if they are in a school that is not meeting the needs of their children, if they get 51 percent of the parents to decide they would like to change that school culture from that of a traditional public school to that of a charter,” said Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House education committee and is a co-author of the measure.
The proposal would also let parents petition the state school board to have the state take control of their school.
The “parent trigger” almost made it through the Indiana General Assembly last year as a part of a package of education overhauls that included the creation of the nation’s most expansive voucher program and an expansion of the groups that can approve new charter schools in Indiana.
Instead, last year lawmakers approved an abridged version of the measure which left the ultimate decision with school boards and limited it to schools that have underperformed for at least two years in a row. So supporters are trying again this year to pass a full “parent trigger.”
But Indiana’s largest teacher’s union says the idea leaves two key groups of people out of the decision: teachers and school administrators.
Teacher’s fought the measure last year in Indiana and were largely successful and will be fighting the proposal again this year, said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teacher’s Association.
“We think that it should be 51 percent of the parents and teachers and educators should have a say,” he said. “It shouldn’t be strictly a parents’ trigger.”
The “parent trigger” raises essentially the same battle which was fought last year in Indiana and is being fought nationwide, between unions and supporters of traditional public schools and charter school advocates.
Legislators last year approved creating the nation’s broadest private school voucher system that allows even middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools.
That was part of the sweeping education changes that Republican legislators and Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed during the 2011 session. Other measures included allowing a new state board and some private colleges to create charter schools, establishing a system of merit pay for teachers and restricting on teacher union contracts to only cover wages and benefits.
Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett drove last year’s education reforms and is supporting the full “parent trigger:”
“This one gains our support because it empowers parents to begin the process of charter conversion (without local school board approval) and includes turnaround timeline acceleration,” Bennett spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said.
The Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution passed the first “parent trigger” through the California Legislature in 2010.
While the California law allows parents to put the school in the hands of a charter operator, in the two years since it passed only one school has attempted to use it — McKinley Elementary School in Compton — and is locked in a court battle.
What it has turned into, instead, is a tool for parents to use when trying to remove bad principals and teachers, when lobbying their school board, said Linda Serrato, spokeswoman for Parent Revolution.
“They don’t have this leverage without it,” Serrato said.
Two more states, Texas and Mississippi, approved the “parent trigger” last year. Other states, including Arizona and Florida, are considering the measure this year.
Kristine Park, policy director with Stand for Children Indiana, said her group is working with Parent Revolution in Indiana to help pass the full “trigger.”
Turning a public school is not as easy as it may seem, Park said. She noted that the 51-percent hurdle is not an easy one to clear, because it can be hard to find and organize parents.