Lawmaker Proposes `Parent Trigger` Law For Low Performing School

Tuesday, October 2nd 2012, 5:54 pm
By: Dana Hertneky

It's the topic of a Hollywood movie and now it could be happening here in Oklahoma. Oklahoma State Senator David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) is proposing a "parent trigger" law that would allow parents to drive change in low performing schools.

Seven states, including California and Texas already have parent trigger laws on the books.

The law typically allows parents of low-performing schools to gather signatures on a petition; 51 percent of parents would trigger a change. Changes could include staffing, and even turning the school into a charter school. Holt says parents would be given a menu of options that would be written into the law.

"If you have parents in chronically failing schools who are that motivated to turn things around, that's inspiring," said Holt. "We as policy makers should facilitate that."

In the movie "Won't Back Down," parents band together to change a failing inner city school. The film was inspired by actual events in Philadelphia where lawmakers are currently considering parent trigger legislation.

In Oklahoma, the proposal has garnered the support of State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

"It really lets the parents customize what may be the best fit for that school and it gives them the ability to move the needle in an environment where things might have been dragging for a while and they have not been able to see progress they want to see," Damon Gardenhire, Communications Director for the State Department of Education, said.

Teachers unions typically oppose such laws. Although Ed Allen with the American Federation of Teachers in Oklahoma City said he could support such a law depending on how it was written.

"If we're going to come in and say we're going to turn around the school and the number one thing is all staff leave, that one size fits all does injustice to the great teachers that are in the building right now," Allen said.

Holt says he thinks he has bipartisan support for the measure. Some Democrats, however, came out in opposition to the parent trigger laws Tuesday, saying they are concerned this is another attempt by Superintendent Barresi to hand public schools over to privately managed charter schools.

"I am disheartened by Superintendent Barresi's response, but not surprised, as she has consistently sought to perpetuate myths about public education and undermine parents' confidence in our public school teachers," said Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum. "I am beyond frustrated that she undercuts funding for public schools, seeks to grade these schools using questionable standards, then defines many of them as irretrievably broken and pushes for conversion to charter schools."

Right now, more than 20 states have considered parent trigger legislation.