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Organization Questions Michigan Parent-Trigger Proposal

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An unlikely critic has emerged to take issue with proposed "parent-trigger" legislation in Michigan.

Parent Revolution, one of the nation's leading backers of trigger laws, has raised concerns about a proposal to establish a school-takeover mechanism of that sort in Michigan. The California-based organization says the bill would allow for-profit operators of charters to oversee reconstituted schools, a step Parent Revolution does not favor.

Parent-trigger measures, which have been established in seven states and considered in many others, create a path for academically struggling schools to be converted to charters, closed, or overhauled in other ways if a majority of parents decide on that option. Parent Revolution is currently helping a group of parents in Adelanto, Calif., attempting to transform a poor-performing school into a charter, an effort that has provoked a heated debate in and around that community.

In an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, Parent Revolution's executive director, Ben Austin, voiced support for the overall intent of the Michigan bill, but said language that would allow for-profit operators to run schools is off the mark.

He said his organization took a similar stance on recent legislation in Arizona, which would have allowed for a private-school voucher option through the trigger, saying his organization "ultimately ended up killing our own bill."

"The whole premise of the parent trigger is to make public schools more public, compelling schools to actually serve the parents and kids they supposedly exist to serve," Austin writes, adding: "Unlike in California and most other states, many of Michigan's charter operators are for-profit providers; therefore, it is critical for Michigan's legislation to explicitly ban these providers."

Austin's position is not new: He told me of his opposition to for-profit charter operators' involvement in parent-trigger laws in an interview many months ago. He reiterated that view in a more recent discussion, saying critics of parent-trigger laws often wrongly accuse his organization of working on behalf of profit-making companies, when in fact it wants keep them out of parent-trigger takeovers.

"The for-profit piece is purely a conspiracy theory," he said.

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