Kirst: Expedite parent trigger regsNo need to get Legislature involved
State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said Wednesday that the State Board does not plan to ask the Legislature to fix the parent empowerment law known as the parent trigger – to the great relief of the embattled law’s advocates. Instead, the State Board extended emergency regulations implementing the parent trigger and speeded up the timetable for adopting final rules to clarify disputed issues.
Kirst’s statement allayed worries of the 100 Los Angeles area parents, affiliated with the nonprofit organizers Parent Revolution, who had driven all night to Sacramento for the second straight month. Among them were parents from McKinley Elementary in Compton whose landmark parent trigger petition calling for a charter school was denied on a technicality by Compton Unified’s board last month. One after another, often with emotion, the primarily Hispanic parents pressed for strong regulations shoring up their right to demand structural reforms at their schools.
Parent Revolution had speculated that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Julia Brownley, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, both of whom opposed the parent empowerment legislation last year, would sabotage the parent trigger law by amending it – a charge that both denied. Brownley has introduced a AB 203, which she said could serve as a cleanup bill to fix issues that cannot be clarified through regulations.
However, Kirst and the State Board defused the issue by directing a committee with a diverse representation that Torlakson assembled – from Parent Revolution to the California Teachers Association – to make recommendations by next month on permanent regulations. Kirst has dedicated the April 21 State Board meeting to the parent trigger issue. Meanwhile, the emergency regulations, under which a majority of parents at a school can file a parent-trigger petition, will remain in effect. By a 9-1 vote, with CTA legislative advocate Patricia Rucker opposed, the State Board also extended the regulations, which were due to expire next week.
“President Kirst’s statement … signaled an intent to craft regulations that serve parents and children, not bureaucrats and special interests,” said Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution, as well as a former State Board member whom Gov. Jerry Brown replaced in January.
Passage of final regulations in April would remove a high-profile source of contention for Brown. He wants activist parents and the CTA focused on a June ballot extending state taxes, not fighting one another on parental choice. But reaching consensus on the permanent regulations will not be easy. The vagueness of the emergency regulations contributed to the conflicts in Compton. The district and Parent Revolution have accused one another of using tactics of intimidation and misinformation. Compton administrators demanded an onerous signature verification process that a District Court judge rejected out of hand.
Under the parent trigger, a majority of parents at a school who sign a petition can demand one of four strategies: closing down the school; restarting as a charter school; replacing most of the teachers and the principal; or adopting another transformation strategy that could involve a longer day and a different curriculum. Issues that must be resolved include:
- Signature verification: what forms of ID will be needed;
- Transparency of information and objectivity of the approval process: how to ensure that parents receive accurate information about all options open to them and that the petition is handled fairly and expeditiously by the district or a third party;
- Charter process: who decides which charter operator will take over the school;
- Appeals process: an uncovered piece of the law;
- Parent protections: how to prevent retribution against parents who sign a petition.
Compton Unified and McKinley parents will be fighting in court for months, if not longer. On Tuesday, the Compton board escalated the conflict by rejecting the application by Celerity Educational Group to open a charter elementary school near McKinley Elementary.
Celerity is the charter operator that McKinley parents had designated in their petition to operate their school. Because of the possibility of protracted litigation, parents had urged Celerity to file a separate application to open a charter school this fall in a nearby church. The superintendent and staff of Compton Unified had recommended that the board approve the charter – a move that could have reduced tensions. But the board voted no, 6-1.
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