By Frank Wells
In July, the State Board of Education (SBE) unanimously approved final regulations governing California’s controversial “parent trigger” law, legislation that allows petitions signed by a majority of parents at one of the state’s lowest-performing schools to trigger interventions such as school closure, a change in school personnel, or conversion to a charter.
The new regulations replace overly vague temporary ones that had led to severe problems and even abuse, such as when a group of charter organizers called Parent Revolution attempted to orchestrate a takeover at McKinley Elementary School in Compton in December. The new regulations are an improvement upon the preceding ones, but CTA still has serious concerns about them.
The hastily written parent trigger law was authored by Sen. Gloria Romero and adopted in January 2010. Bill sponsors thought the law would earn extra credit in the Race to the Top competition, but they were wrong. It was never considered.
The law caps the number of eligible schools at 75, and so far McKinley is the only school where the parent trigger has been pulled. After the McKinley petitions were submitted, many parents leveled charges of intimidation and misrepresentation against Parent Revolution. Some said organizers misidentified themselves as local parents or said that signing the petition would “beautify the school.” The organizers and some parents responded with countercharges against McKinley staff members.
Largely lost in all this uproar was the fact that McKinley had already been making dramatic progress the prior two years under CTA’s Quality Education Improvement Act (QEIA), information Parent Revolution organizers did not share with parents. In May, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge declared the McKinley parent trigger petitions invalid for technical reasons, shattering Parent Revolution’s poorly chosen showcase and forcing them to regroup.
Part of the Wild West atmosphere that permeated the first attempt at using the parent trigger law stemmed from the vagueness of the legislation itself and the lack of clear guidelines for its implementation. As the SBE prepared to act on replacing temporary guidelines with final ones, Parent Revolution bused dozens of supportive Los Angeles area parents to Sacramento to testify or simply sit in the audience wearing Parent Revolution T-shirts.
Parent Revolution also unsuccessfully challenged the right of board member Patricia Rucker, a CTA legislative advocate, to vote on the new regulations, claiming a conflict of interest. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission found no merit in the complaint.
Testifying before the SBE with a different viewpoint from that of Parent Revolution were several Compton, Los Angeles and Inglewood area parents who urged members to balance support for parents with acknowledgment of the realities of the classroom.
One issue of contention was the ability of the state board to adopt regulations that supersede current charter school law. Daly Jordan-Koch, Pixie Hayward-Schickele, Sandra Thornton and Larry Carlin, serving as CTA liaisons to the SBE, all urged the board to keep teachers as partners in the process of converting existing underperforming schools to charters, and reminded them that regulations must not sidestep legislation that requires teacher signatures on charter conversion petitions. “There was no legislative intent to set aside the charter school law, and we are asking you to follow that law,” Hayward-Schickele told the board.
The adopted final regulations reject that notion and appear to be in conflict with existing legislation. CTA legal counsel has submitted public comment challenging the SBE’s authority to pre-empt current law through its own regulations. CTA has also urged the board to restore a requirement for an open public meeting for parents in the affected school to discuss all options.
While the new regulations are certainly better than the prior temporary ones, CTA still has serious concerns about some aspects of them and about the law. “Even if you support the parent trigger concept, which we believe is deeply flawed, the law itself was very poorly written and has already led to a great deal of needless confusion and disruption,” says Hayward-Schickele.