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Parent-Trigger Law Needs Clarification

When California passed the Parent Empowerment Act in 2010, the clear intent was to give disaffected parents the right to force one of five types of major changes. Yet public schools belong to all - not merely to the parents whose children attend them ("It's time to reconsider the parent trigger," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 3).  As a result, all voters should have the opportunity to express their views before significant changes are made.  I grant that such a requirement makes for a slower and more costly process, but democracy is not intended to be merely efficient.  

The latest example is the Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim, where parents wanted to convert the school into a charter ("Parent-Trigger V-Day," The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 21). An Orange County Superior Court judge ordered the district to accept the petition, dismissing the objections raised by the district and the teachers' union  as unreasonable and unfair.

I agree with the ruling in this particular instance, but I hasten to point out that there is another side of the story that needs to be told.  The parent-trigger law, as it is usually called, has the potential to be used as a way to corporatize public education. There is much money to be made by taking over schools and running them like a business. Although Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, the first school to be converted, is operated as a non-profit charter school, other schools are not guaranteed the same status.

Equally important is whether the parent trigger is the best way to improve underperforming schools. The process of gathering parent signatures sets the stage for misleading claims from both sides. (Of course, this possibility is true in any election.) People weigh the evidence presented and then come to a decision.  I believe parents should not be denied the right to do the same when it comes to the education of their children.

That's why I urge clarification of the law. Teachers' unions and school districts should not be allowed to stymie efforts to make legitimate changes.  By the same token, parents should not be permitted to sign a petition until they have certified that they have fulfilled their responsibility to make sure their children have done their homework and followed other recommedations made by teachers. Without these changes, the parent-trigger will be used in a way it was never intended.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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