Parent Trigger Proposal in Play

A state lawmaker has proposed legislation making it easier for parents to force reform at their child’s public school. It’s known as a parent trigger law, and it’s part of a national push by the education lobbying group Students First.

The parent trigger law has been popularized in recent months by a film called “Won’t Back Down” in which two mothers take on the teacher’s union and take over a failing school.

Memphis Democrat John DeBerry has proposed allowing a simple majority of parents to sign a petition and either transform into a charter or close the school altogether. DeBerry says his proposal is meant to start a conversation.

“Then all of us as 99 members of the House and 33 members of the Senate try to make some kind of law that works without opening Pandora’s box. In other words, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that can’t happen.”

Around the country, parent triggers have been pulled only a few times. But critics fear their growing popularity could create chaos for local school districts.

Tennessee already has a parent trigger law that was updated in 2011, but it’s considered weak because the local school board has the final say so. DeBerry’s legislation would give the final word to a state board instead.

DeBerry, who is a member of the House Education Committee, received more than $100,000 in campaign help from Students First. He says he doesn’t owe the lobbying group anything and that he didn’t solicit their monetary support. They just see him as likeminded, he says.

“They want to be close to a legislator who has the guts and the courage to say what has to be said and to accept whatever political fallout that comes to fight the battles that I believe in.”

DeBerry says it is nice to know Students First will likely come to his aid again if he receives blowback for the parent trigger push from groups traditionally opposed, such as teachers unions and large school districts.

Web Extra

by Chelsea Mihelich

What would change in the Tennessee parent trigger law under Rep. DeBerry’s proposal:

- If a public school is in the bottom 20 percent of the state in student academic performance, only 51 percent of parents would be needed to petition a conversion to a public charter school. Otherwise, 60 percent of parents would be needed for a petition.

- Parents could petition to convert to a charter school or choose to petition for one of four school intervention models laid out in the federal “Race to the Top” program. These models include a turnaround model, a restart model, a transformation model, and school closure.

- Petitioning parents could now appeal to the state board of education if a school district turns down their petition.

- If a school district itself decides to convert a public school to a public charter school, parents may also appeal this decision to the state board of education.

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