Georgia has been a leader in school choice, but recent events have slowed the progress of authorizing more public charter schools.
After the ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court last summer that struck down the ability of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission to authorize charter schools, approval for new charters and extensions of charter petitions has declined. Families who do not have the bank accounts for private schools or live in a zip code that does not provide the benefits of successful public schools often are left without alternatives.
Parents need pathways that speed improvement in school situations that seem dire, and that bypass the roadblocks erected by traditional educational systems. As schools in Georgia continue to rank near the bottom, families need the bold change that the proposed Parent Trigger Act would provide.
The first parent trigger legislation was signed in California in January of 2010 and was aimed at chronically low-achieving schools. It transfers power directly to parents allowing them to mobilize and make transformational decisions. After gathering the signatures of a 51-percent majority of parents, there are several options such as hiring a new principal, closing the school completely, or converting it into a high-performing public charter school, all of which are federal “Race to the Top” interventions.
The process begins with parents coming together for unprecedented decision power. A key advantage of parent triggers is keeping existing schools intact within the neighborhood: no search for a new building or lottery needed for enrollment.
Parent triggers have had little implementation so far. The first attempted trigger occurred in Compton, California. After signatures were collected, they did not withstand a court challenge since some signers did not include the date. Rather than converting the school into a charter, a public charter school was opened nearby.
Texas and Mississippi also have enacted parent trigger legislation. Twenty-two additional states are considering trigger bills.
In Georgia, the proposed Parent Trigger Act- HB 731 would provide for charter petitions by a majority of parents or guardians for “low-achieving” schools. Schools qualify as “low-achieving” when they fail to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two years in the same subject. The Parent Trigger would apply to accreditation problems, such as probation. A majority of parents of enrolled students could simply vote and submit a petition to the local school board. A petition could also be submitted if a faculty majority agreed to do so. As in California, the parent board could choose to implement one of the four federal “Race to the Top” interventions.
Traditionally, parent involvement amounts to volunteering in the school library or attending meetings. Rarely are parents given the opportunity for genuine, direct input in educational decisions affecting their children. Instead, families are asked to wait while the massive, unresponsive educational system gradually inches along without demonstrating much progress.
The parent trigger process is underway for the second time in Adelanto, California where Principal Mobley at Desert Trails Elementary expressed his preference for gradualism: ”We need to work within the system to make the changes. There are [union] contracts and budget constraints, but that’s going to be the process. We’ll get there.”
However, back in Compton, Gregoria Gonzalez, involved in her local school for years, described her support for the trigger stating, “We are very tired of being told if we want to help we simply should stand outside watching recess or making something for a bake sale.”
The Parent Trigger Act would give parents the freedom to enact crucial transformation of persistently failing schools in Georgia with dispatch.