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Calif. Parent-Trigger Advocate Leaves Group He Founded

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By Karla Scoon Reid. Cross-posted from the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.

Parent Revolution's founder and one of the nation's most vocal proponents of the so-called parent-trigger law resigned from the Los Angeles-based organization this week.

According to a news release, Ben Austin is stepping down as executive director of Parent Revolution to pursue new opportunities. Alison Laslett, Parent Revolution's chief operating officer, will serve as interim executive director while the group searches for Austin's permanent successor. 

Austin has led Parent Revolution since 2008 and helped lobby for the passage of California's Parent Empowerment Act. The law permits parents whose children are enrolled in persistently failing schools to petition their district for sweeping educational changes, including converting to a charter or removing the principal and staff.

In a blog for the Huffington Post, Austin writes that he will make an announcement soon detailing his next role in the "movement to reorient public education to serve the interests of children, not adults."

Parent Revolution has sent organizers into California communities seeking to use the parent-trigger law to help parents organize petitions and assert their rights under the law. Parent Revolution staffers also helped parents evaluate the education-reform options at their disposal. Certain efforts have led to contentious and lengthy disputes, like at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., while others involved more cooperation with school district officials.

Some have roundly criticized Austin and Parent Revolution's efforts, believing that the school transformations are strategies to avoid hiring union teachers and create more charter schools. Education historian Diane Ravitch even got into a highly-charged war of words with Austin over parent-trigger law tactics in 2013.

Those opposed to the parent-trigger law also point to Parent Revolution's funders, which include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, both supporters of charter schools. (Education Week receives funding for coverage of education issues from both foundations, including support by Walton of parent-empowerment coverage, such as this blog.) 

But in the Huffington Post, Austin characterizes Parent Revolution's work as a success and predicts the parent-trigger law will have a long future.

"We have normalized the idea of parent power and institutionalized parent trigger into our legal and political framework," Austin wrote. He added that "when you step back and look at the arc of our journey, I could not be more confident that our dream of a kids-first agenda will ultimately come true."

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