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Since the passage of the “Parent Trigger” law in California in 2010, lawmakers across the country have begun to look closely at similar legislation for their own states. Michigan is one of those states, and recently the Michigan Senate passed SB620. This bill is now before the House Education Committee.

parent trigger law
Ben Austin

Those of us who conceived Parent Trigger three years ago, and have been working on its implementation in California and across the country since, applaud those legislators in Lansing who are joining parents in creating better schools for their kids.

At the same time, however, we cannot support the provision in SB620 allowing for-profit charter school operators to take over a school once parents have successfully used the Parent Trigger.

Parent Trigger is a simple yet transformational law giving parents real power over the educational destiny of their own children. A Parent Trigger law empowers the majority of parents at any failing school either to bring in new leadership and new staff or transform their school into a charter school.

Since the passage of the California law in January 2010, three additional states — Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana — have passed similar laws. This means nearly 25% of public school parents in America have the ability to transform their child’s failing school through community organizing.

Parent Trigger changes the dialogue from one in which district bureaucracies, including school boards, administrators, teacher unions and others fight over turf and economic interests to one driven by the question: “What is best for our kids?

In California, the Parent Trigger applies only to schools that have failed to meet academic benchmarks for four or more years. Under the provisions of SB620, only public schools determined to be among the lowest achieving 5% of all Michigan public schools would be eligible for conversion.

The passage of SB620 in the Senate is, without a doubt, a significant first step in providing Michigan parents with the legal power to transform underachieving schools that are failing their children.

The whole premise of the Parent Trigger is to make public schools more public, compelling schools to actually serve the parents and kids they supposedly exist to serve.

As the creators of the original law , we have always stood for a simple and fundamental proposition: Parents must have power over the education of their own children. Profit has no place in that education. In Arizona, we took a similar position of opposition to proposed Parent Trigger legislation allowing for a voucher option and ultimately ended up killing our own bill.

Unlike in California and most other states, many of Michigan’s charter operators are for-profit providers; therefore, it is critical for Michigan’s legislation to explicitly ban these providers. We’re also concerned that SB620 creates an unrealistic requirement of obtaining signatures from 60% of parents to convert their schools. It is close to impossible to achieve this threshold, given the ferocity of the opposition parents have faced from the defenders of the status quo in California.

Michigan state legislators have an almost unprecedented opportunity to get it right by passing a Parent Trigger law. Tens of thousands of Michigan parents will benefit profoundly from legislation that gives them an equal voice and seat at each and every table making decisions involving their child’s education.

Without these changes, SB620 would undermine the original spirit and concept behind the Parent Trigger. It is my hope legislators will change this measure for the sake of the thousands of parents who want a better future for their children.

Ben Austin is the executive director of Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, and the creator of the Parent Trigger.

This piece originally ran in the Detroit Free Press.

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  1. Another simplistic silver bullet that is actually aimed at privatizing our public schools. You don’t improve a school community’s ability to educate children by dividing it, which is exactly what the Parent Trigger Laws do. Parents in Florida figured that out last year and called by the thousands against the bill which failed.

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