Jul 13, 2011

California Board Of Ed Could Finalize Trigger Laws Today [Or, Ben Austin Might Hit The Jackpot!]

Debbie O’Toole is a San Diego native and is married with three children in city schools. She has served as president of the local elementary school parent organization, volunteers in class, teaches art, field trip driver, fundraising, etc. Being dismayed with the lack of communication between the school district and parents prompted her to start a website focusing on giving parents information about district issues in a timely manner. Voiceforourkids.org began in June of 2009 and reaches thousands of parents each month through email alerts. This year Debbie joined Parents for Quality Education as president to continue to advocate for children, concentrating on state legislation.

Parents from all over California will converge on Sacramento today in hopes of seeing the State Board of Education give final approval to regulations for the Parent Empowerment Law, also known as the Parent Trigger Law. The law allows parents with children at chronically failing schools to intervene and bring about a set of changes through a simple petition process.

Eighteen months after the law was signed, parents have been waiting for the board to approve the final regulations. Several parent groups have made multiple treks to the capitol to express their frustration in not being able to use the new law, but we are looking for that to change after today.

The makeup of the board changed after the election of Jerry Brown as governor, and it includes a paid lobbyist for the California Teachers Association. This board member attempted to add to the regulations that not only should half of the parents agree to a change at a school, but half of the teachers should also have to agree. To say this has been an uphill battle is an understatement.

But, as frustrated as we’ve been, we’re hopful the board will do the right thing and that today will be remembered as one in which childrens' interests came before any others.

The first group of parents to attempt to "pull the trigger" was from McKinley Elementary in Compton. Those parents have been treated horribly by school staff and the district, yet they fight on. Starting this fall they will have a new charter school, two blocks away at a local church. Not exactly what they had in mind, but at least their children don't have to spend more time at a failing school. Thankfully, as well, these parents are still working hard to see the law work for other parents.

The law is simple; if a school is failing (based on a set formula), parents can petition for change. Fifty percent of parents need to sign the petition. Parents vote to choose one of the four choices allowed; remove the principal or staff, close the school altogether, make changes like lengthening the school day or turn the school into a charter. Some feel the law doesn't go far enough because of one caveat; there is a cap of 75 schools. Over 1,300 qualify under the formula, but only 75 will be allowed to change. It's not a perfect law, but there's no question it's an improvement over the status quo.

The views presented on our guest blogs are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of StudentsFirst. We thank all of our guest bloggers for their thoughtful perspectives.

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