Behind-the-scenes maneuvers on parental reforms
A new year, same old power plays.
There likely will be action today in the Assembly on compromise Race to the Top legislation, as scheduled. But instead of one big bill, two reforms opposed by the school boards association and the state teachers union will be shoved into a separate bill, which the lobbies hope to kill. At least that’s the word I got late last night, after a day of intense negotiations.
Both reforms would give more power to families in chronically failing schools. So Democrats in the Assembly will find themselves having to choose between the interests of the union and that of parents.
When last we left it, before Christmas, SBX5-4 has passed the Senate and was awaiting action in the Assembly. It still is. The bill would put California on firmer ground in competing for a piece of the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion school reform grant program.
The two parent empowerment reforms are backed by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, and Gov. Schwarzenegger. The open enrollment provision would give parents in the bottom 10 percent of low-achieving schools the right to choose a better school in another district, assuming there is space available. However, in response to serious questions raised at the Senate hearing about how the program would work, the bill needed to be fleshed out in detail over the Christmas break.
The parent “trigger” provision is the creation of Parent Revolution, an activist group behind the big school reform movement in Los Angeles Unified. If 50 percent of parents of students in a school – or 50 percent of parents in feeder schools, in the case of a high school – signed a petition calling for change, school trustees would have to take decisive action: turning the school over to a charter school operator, replacing the principal and majority of the staff, or taking other serious turn-around strategies. In its latest form, the provision would be restricted to the first 75 successful petitions in schools that had failed to meet federal No Child Left Behind targets for six or more straight years. (Update, Jan. 5: Under the final wording of the bill, the trigger provision would apply to schools in Year 3 or greater of Program Improvement. Schools in this category have failed to meet federal NCLB targets for four or more years . There currently are 651 schools in Years 3 and 4 and 1075 schools in Year 5 and longer of School Improvement. The parent petition could be imposed on a maximum of 75 schools — 4 percent of the total.)
Under current law, a vote by 50 percent or more of tenured teachers in a school can force the conversion of a district school into a charter school. So the California Teachers Assn. is doing verbal gymnastics opposing a bill that would grant parents the same right that teachers have. But self-interest doesn’t require logic.
The CTA argues that the parent “trigger” is extraneous to the Race to the Top competition. It is true that the final rules don’t specifically award points for adopting this reform. However, this strategy for parental involvement is the kind of innovation that would grab the feds’ attention in judging states’ proposals.
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