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Parent Trigger Update

3:00 PM, Apr 11, 2011 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Proposals to enact so-called "parent trigger" laws, where parents can choose to convert their failing school into a charter school, are gaining traction, and the teachers' unions and some liberal groups are unsurprisingly up in arms. In Ohio for instance, Republican governor John Kasich has included a law similar to California's trigger law in his budget proposal, and the state teachers' union is not pleased:

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the trigger provision is based on California's parent-empowerment law, which was enacted early last year. A dozen other states have discussed similar measures.

Ohio's largest teachers union questions the California example.

"Given the confusion and disputes that have arisen with California's experience with a parent-takeover law, including parents who feel they were misled in signing petitions, Ohio should proceed with caution," Ohio Education Association spokeswoman Michele Prater said in an email....

"I don't know how you don't create chaos when you've always got this specter of parents who are dissatisfied in some way saying, 'We're going to initiate this process and reconstitute this school,'" said Scott DiMauro, a Worthington teacher who heads the Central OEA/NEA, a regional union branch. He spoke on behalf of Join the Future, a new group advocating for public schools and teachers.

A related bill aimed at increasing parent involvement is moving along in the Colorado legislature as well, passing the state senate there last week. Several other states, including Pennsylvania and Georgia, are also considering similar laws.

In Chicago, where mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel made a parent trigger a central part of his campaign, a group called Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) has come out against any such measure:

...on Tuesday, Parents United for Responsible Education spoke out against the measure, saying it would be too disruptive and could be misused by charter operators. PURE executive director Julie Woestehoff said that research shows local school councils' efforts to reform troubled public schools from within are working.

"It's really a huge opportunity for charter school operators to get a school building for themselves," Woestehoff said. "It just seems like there's a lot of opportunity for conflicts of interests and deceptive and misleading kinds of practices."

PURE began in the late 1980s in Chicago in response to an effort by then-mayor Harold Washington to reform education policy with testing standards and a business model for the public school system, which PURE argues "[justifies] union busting and school privatization." Woestehoff has been lauded by the left-wing Ford Foundation for her efforts.

The fight over charter schools and laws like the parent trigger has created an interesting dynamic, in that many combatants on either side of the issue come from the left. Rahm Emanuel is, of course, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama. The executive director of Parent Revolution, the pro-trigger non-profit group supporting McKinley Elementary's parents in Compton, is Ben Austin, a former aide to Bill Clinton. And director Davis Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth fame, certainly no conservative, achieved popular and critical acclaim for his pro-school choice documentary Waiting for "Superman," released last year.

On the other side are liberal allies to the teachers' unions like Woestehoff and the unions themselves. The fact that this debate is happening among Democrats could be considered a victory for conservative and pro-market school choice advocates who have seemingly moved the center on this particular education issue to the right.

Meanwhile, Kristina Rizga has a fairly reported piece about the parent trigger law in California at Mother Jones.

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