Parent Trigger Wins Court Fight

MARCH 30, 2011

By BRIAN CALLE

It is no big surprise that, in recent years, California has been far from a leader in public policy and good governance reforms.

Every once and awhile there is an exception. Last year’s exception came when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature passed an education reform — the parent trigger — in the face of union opposition which has good potential for giving parents, rather than unions, more control over the direction of their children’s schools.

The parent trigger law allows parents of children in a failing school to petition for the school to be transformed into a charter school, reformed or closed altogether. But now that it is being utilized in failing districts, unions and bureaucrats are trying to undermine the reform.

Other states are now considering similar laws modeled after the parent trigger, while some within the education establishment in California, including teachers unions, are attempting to subvert the law. Compton, California has become ground zero for the protecting the important reform; so far parents are winning.

Parents of students at McKinley Elementary in Compton won a decisive battle March 21 for school-reform advocates, parents and students alike. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr ruled that the Compton district violated the First Amendment rights of parents who petitioned to reform the school when the district administrators imposed onerous standards for verifying parent petitions. Parents, by a 61 percent majority, invoked the parent trigger petitioning the district to turn McKinley into a charter school.

The Compton Education Association, the teachers union, vigorously opposed the petition, citing recent performance gains and contending that the law was not meant for schools that are improving. But McKinley is one of the worst-performing schools in California, ranking in the bottom 10 percent of all schools.

Regulatory Impositions

Aside from union opposition, parents had to endure draconian procedures imposed by district administrators to verify their signatures on petitions. They forced petitioning parents to present a photo ID and participate in an interview with administrators.

Going further, on Feb. 24, the Compton district’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to oppose the parent petitions, for a variety of reasons, all without substance: Some of the signatures might not have been valid, dates were missing, birthdates were incorrect, there were typos on the petition, and parents did not provide enough supporting documentation.

In a statement, the School Board said they did so because had the petition taken effect McKinley Elementary School would have been removed from “CUSD oversight” with authority being transferred “to a Los Angeles-based charter school organization designated by ‘parent trigger’ petitioners.” The school district did not want to lose control of McKinley, and surely the union did not want to lose the teaching positions.

Parents, with the help of a local advocacy group, Parent Revolution, sued the district over the petition verification process, calling it unconstitutional. Judge Mohr agreed.

The battle over McKinley Elementary in Compton has statewide and national implications. If the parents are successful in using the parent trigger, they open the door for parents and students in other failing school districts throughout California

And they illustrate to elected officials in other states that reforms geared at giving parents more choice and voice in education are essential.

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