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Texas Senate OKs Parent-Trigger Reboot, Tennessee Bill Stalls

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Lawmakers took vastly different paths regarding the future of parent-trigger laws in two states this week.

While Texas senators approved a bill that would make changes to its current parent-trigger law, Tennessee lawmakers shelved legislation that would have given parents the right to petition for big changes at low-performing schools.

Texas' current parent-trigger law allows parents to petition to convert a school into a charter if a school is rated "unacceptable" by the state for five consecutive years. Texas senators voted 25-6 on April 15 to reduce that time period to three years, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The proposed bill had originally reduced that time to two years. But the Chronicle reports that Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, the bill's sponsor, agreed to lengthen the time after learning that 160 of the 225 Texas schools identified as failing for two straight years improved by year three. The bill now heads to the House.

"Today parents across Texas are now one step closer to having a seat at the table," Dallas parent Rosa Longoria said in a release from Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based parent-trigger advocacy group, which is lobbying for the laws in both Texas and Tennessee.

Texas passed its parent-trigger law in 2011—just a year after California became the first state to adopt legislation giving parents the right to demand sweeping education reforms to turn around persistently failing schools.

But Texas parents haven't used the law. Reducing the amount of time parents have to wait to use it in Texas could potentially increase the number of trigger-eligible schools and generate more interest, or the controversial education reform tool may be just too challenging for parents to use.

Meanwhile, Tennessee lawmakers couldn't garner enough support to pass a parent-trigger law. Chalkbeat Tennessee reports this week that although the bill passed the Senate Education Committee in March, Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey, the bill's sponsor, requested that the Senate Finance Committee hold the measure for consideration until next year. The bill was also withdrawn from a House subcommittee.

"Rather than have it voted down and give it another blow ... that was just something I personally was not willing to allow to happen," Democratic Rep. John DeBerry, the bill's sponsor, told Chalkbeat.

Nationally, only six states have adopted parent-trigger-inspired laws since 2010. The National Conference of State Legislature reports that lawmakers in six more states are considering parent-trigger legislation this year.

But only parents in California have ever used the law. Education Week compiled a list of California schools that used it and/or have sought assistance from parent-trigger advocates to leverage the trigger law to make changes at their schools. (Read more about the parent-trigger law in California here.)

Susan Auerbach, an education professor at California State University, Northridge, who specializes in parent engagement, told me that California parents using the trigger law for leverage signals the law's failure and is "another indication of how blunt an instrument it is and how poorly it fits the needs of families at low-achieving schools."

She added that it also "shows that there are many routes to parent empowerment and that—unlike trigger proponents—most parents prefer more-collaborative routes that do not dismantle their schools or dismiss their educators."

Auerbach is presenting an analysis of media coverage of the trigger law from 2010-2013 at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference in Chicago Saturday. 

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