California lawmakers and education activists teleconferenced with Connecticut parents and lawmakers Thursday about how they passed “parent trigger” legislation for failing schools in their state.
Lawmakers here are advocating for similar legislation, which would allow parents to vote on whether to reconstitute a school, but it doesn’t go as far as the California legislation in allowing parents to close a school.
Probably the most controversial of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus’ proposal to close the achievement gap between minority and white students in the state, some lawmakers and parents believe it’s the key to closing that gap.
“Parent empowerment is key to addressing the achievement gap in the state of Connecticut,” Rep. Jason Bartlett, D-Bethel, said as he opened up the telephone conference.
Ben Austin, executive director of the Parents Union in California, said his state’s movement started in the Los Angeles school district were 50 percent of the children weren’t graduating and 90 percent weren’t attending college.
“The realization that the parents of Los Angeles came to was that our schools are failing because they’re not designed to succeed,” Austin said.
He said parents in Los Angeles started organizing around the radical principle that giving power to parents, whose only interest is their children, was in their best interests. It was tested out in Los Angeles before parents brought the idea to its state legislature where it passed by one vote in the Assembly and one vote in the Senate, Austin said.
“As powerful as the other side was, as much as we were playing on the home court of the defenders of the status quo, I think that the fundamental reason we won was the idea was too difficult to argue with,” Austin said.
Parents in Connecticut like Gwen Samuel, chairperson of the State of Black Connecticut, said from a parents perspective it’s not meant to be anything punitive.
“But parents and children are the only stakeholders that do not have decision making powers in transforming schools, yet we are the consumers of the product,” Samuel said.
She said the parent trigger is very specific. It applies only to failing schools that have been failing for three or more years as outlined by ’No Child Left Behind’. She also said getting 51 percent of the parents to agree to reconstitute the school or implement one of the transformation models.
She said if a school is able to garner enough parent support then educators and administrators need to be concerned about what brought that many parents, from all different backgrounds, to the table.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said the draft legislation doesn’t allow a majority of parents to close a school, like the California legislation does. And it tried to strike a balance by including the local boards of education in the decision making process after a parent petition is submitted.
“If parents make a decision and the local school board disagrees then it goes to the state Education Commissioner,” Holder-Winfield said.
The draft legislation also doesn’t allow more than 25 schools per year to be subject to the petitioning process and restricts the petition to one per year for any school. A parent petition won’t be accepted for the same school two years in a row.
But the proposal remains controversial and is likely to be opposed by the teachers’ unions.
After the 10-point plan, including the ‘parent trigger’ was announced earlier this month, Sharon Palmer, president of AFT Connecticut said in a statement that “We agree that parents should be included in the decision making process on how we help schools to succeed.“ However, “this needs to be done in a way that invites and empowers participation by all vested parties. Unfortunately, a ‘parent trigger’ limits that involvement to just a signature.”