Fix the ‘parent trigger’
The Los Angeles Unified School District did the right thing by setting some new requirements for “parent trigger” petitions for school reform. But the small changes a local district can make don’t go nearly far enough to amend a sloppily written and poorly implemented state law. After years of ignoring the resulting dysfunction, the Legislature and State Board of Education need to step up and fix their mistakes.
The biggest problem with the parent trigger law has always been the dismaying lack of transparency. The law allows parents at a school that has missed its performance goals to force any of several dramatic changes, including a switch to a charter school, if half or more of the parents sign a petition. But there are no requirements for the petition drive to be held openly or for all parents at the school to be informed. The lack of a public forum is fundamentally wrong. These are public schools, and the petitions have the force of law. The fate of taxpayer-funded schools should not be decided in secrecy.
On a practical level, open meetings would provide parents with better, more accurate information and an opportunity to debate the issues. There have been too many reports of parents being given misinformation on both sides, from signature gatherers and from teachers hoping to kill a petition.
The policy adopted last week by L.A. Unified would ask for evidence from signature gatherers that they have held open meetings — though the district cannot require such meetings — as well as requiring a school targeted by a petition to hold an informational forum for parents. That’s assuming, of course, that the school even finds out before the petition drive is over. The rules must be amended at the state level to require public notification when a petition drive gets underway, and it should apply to all schools in the state.
There are other issues with the parent trigger that only the Legislature or the state school board can fix. Parents who don’t sign the trigger petition are left out of any future votes to pick the option they might want for their school. That’s tantamount to telling voters that if they didn’t cast ballots for the winner in the primary election, they’re not allowed to vote in the runoff. The law also makes it too easy to bring petitions against schools that are doing fairly well.
Individual school districts shouldn’t be left to try resolving all the disputes with one hand tied behind their backs. The concept of the parent trigger is worthwhile: to give parents some say when a school provides a grossly inferior education and educators ignore their valid concerns. Overall, though, the law has not risen to that lofty ideal.
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