Parent Trigger Bill May Come up Again in Legislature This Year (UPDATE 1)


(APN) ATLANTA — House Bill 123, the Parent Teacher Empowerment Act, commonly known as the Parent Trigger bill, care of State Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Atlanta) and others, is rearing its ugly head again, this time for a possible State Senate vote.  



Having passed the House last year, in a vote of 97 to 74, but dying an ugly death in Senate Education and Youth Committee, HB 123 will be one of many controversial bills on the table this Legislative Session.



“The basic concept of the policy is that parents have the ability to intervene in their child’s school if it is performing poorly.  With enough signatures from parents, any number of actions can be taken against the low performing school.  These can include converting it to a charter school, replacing some of the school’s administration and faculty, and closing the school altogether.  Some have also proposed offering affected students private school vouchers,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLB).



Approximately 130 charter schools exist in Georgia as of January 2014; 130 approved schools, 22 active petitions, and two approved petitions, according to the Georgia Department of Education’s website.



If a school is voted into a charter scenario, for-profit businesses would inevitably step in to coordinate or administer those changes.



This is not the first time a Parent Trigger law has been pushed.  In 2011-12, Georgia Republican State Sens. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and John Albers (R-Roswell) sponsored SB 68, the Parent Trigger Act, but it was later voted down.



“This bill needs to be put in the trash,” Monique Braswell, former President of Richmond County Parent Teacher Association, in Augusta, Georgia, told Atlanta Progressive News.



“There are a few things wrong with this bill.  First, this bill is not giving the parents the power that it boasts.  While the parents can start a petition at any time, once that petition has been filed, it’s out of our (the parents’) hands,” Braswell said.



“Another reason this bill is bad news is that a parent can file a petition on any school, whether their child attends that school or not!  In addition, if a high school has a 65% graduation rate, a petition is automatically approved.  Even worse, children can sign the petition under current HB 123 language!  How can the signatures of children be valid when deciding the fate of a school?” Braswell exclaimed.



Advocates against Parent Trigger have longed express outrage with the thought of businesses interfering with education, and for good reason.  For years, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s EduPAC supported, coordinated, and directed potential candidates and existing elected officials at the local School Board level.



“This is nothing short of a takeover of public schools by special interests,” Verdaillia Turner, President of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, told APN.



According to Turner, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the main vein behind HB 123.



“Over one-third of our legislators are members of ALEC.  Members meet every year to decide on what bills they want to support.  Based on those picks, major corporations choose the bills they will fund efforts for.  It’s a hijacking of the system; the Capitol needs to be swept clean!” Turner said.



“We recently sent out a blast to our members to call and email their legislators urging them to kill this bill!” Turner said.



StudentsFirst, another organization behind the parent-trigger push, published their second annual state policy report card.  In it, they rank Georgia overall with a C- and a grade point average of 1.75.



At least seven states have current parent-trigger laws, according to the NCLB.  One school in Ohio is utilizing a pilot program.  Generally, the effort is slow on the uptake, as StudentsFirst rates almost every state in the nation with a failing grade.



“Empowering parents is part of our mission.  They need to have a voice when schools are falling under the 5% mark. It is our goal to take schools performing at the bottom 5% and have them perform in the top 25%,” Bradford Swann, Georgia Director of StudentsFirst, told APN.



Of course, there is a logical fallacy with this assertion because there will always be some schools at the lower five percent.  Even if those schools are improved, and their percentage ranking is thus increased, that only means that other schools will fall into the lower five percent.



“House Bill 123 is not our model legislation,” commented Swann. “There are three things that could change.  One, it’s really prescriptive; two, the legislation is only for low performing schools; and three, I would prefer an appeals process be included.  House Bill 123 is a hodge podge of what Ed Lindsey had to get to move it forward,” Swann said.



“My goal is to have this be more of a unifying bill, especially after the last fight,” Lindsey recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.



According to the AJC, Lindsey has not made a final decision on exactly what his legislation will say.



“Lindsey said he’s not sure yet if he wants to require a simple majority or a supermajority of the local board to reject the petition for a charter,” the AJC stated.



“He said he’s also not sure if he wants to establish some type of appeal process for petitioners if the local board rejects the charter,” the AJC stated.



With all the issues and uncertainty from the main author surrounding HB 123 language, coupled with a short legislative session and many more controversial bills on the table, it is unlikely that HB 123 will see productive, forward movement.



As of January 15, 2014, HB 123 was not on the Education Committee’s schedule to be heard.  Atlanta Progressive News will continue to follow this HB 123 during this year’s session.



“We did not actively oppose the legislation last year, but did express our concerns with some of the technical aspects of the bill. The definition of a ‘majority’ of parents being one of those items we had concerns about.  We also were strongly opposed when teachers’ votes were removed from the language of the bill during committee and we voiced our objects to that.  We were pleased that the bill, imperfect as it was, died in committee,” Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators told APN.




CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Monique Braswell is the President of the Richmond County PTA; in fact, she is the former President of the same.

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