Could teachers veto charter option?Dispute over wording of Parent Trigger
Teachers would have the power to nullify parents’ demands to restart their low-performing school as a charter school, based on a rewording from a previous draft of the Parent Trigger regulations.
The conflict in language, which infuriated parent advocates and pleased representatives of the California Teachers Association, was one of the more contentious points at a hearing Thursday before the State Board of Education on regulations for the parent empowerment law. By the end of a long day, the reason for the discrepancy between the past and current versions wasn’t clear, and the difference won’t be resolved until the Board votes on the final wording, probably in July. Meanwhile, the change set conspiracy tongues wagging.
At issue is how to resolve a conflict between two laws. The Parent Trigger allows a majority of parents at a school facing its fourth year or longer of federal sanctions for poor performance to choose from among four options for structural reforms. One of those, which may end up being the most popular among parents, is to change to a charter school. Parents can even request a specific charter operator, as parents at McKinley Elementary in Compton Unified, the first to submit a petition, have done.
Most charter schools start from scratch. However, there’s also a state law that allows a district school to be converted to a charter school if half of the teachers there approve. Lawyers for the teachers association argue that the restart option under the Parent Trigger constitutes a conversion charter and so must follow existing law, including the requirement that the majority of teachers give their consent. Only the Legislature, not the State Board, can amend the law, CTA lobbyist Ken Burt said.
But the Parent Trigger’s purpose is to empower parents to change schools, not put obstacles in the way, advocates of the law said. “It’s nonsensical on its face” to also require teachers’ approval, said Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution, adding that if teachers had wanted to convert the school to a charter, they already would have done so.
State Board President Michael Kirst implied that he agreed. The charter option under Parent Trigger would appear to constitute a new charter, not a conversion; the circumstances are different, he said.
Earlier drafts of the Parent Trigger regulations omitted a reference to the subsection of the law – Section 47605 in the Education Code – pertaining to a teachers’ vote. But the latest version included it.
Pressed to explain, Department of Education attorney Elizabeth Stein attributed the change to a “drafting problem” and said it was not the Department’s intent to include the teachers’ signatures. This drew applause from parents and community leaders from Compton and Los Angeles, who once again drove all night in a chartered bus to testify at the hearing.
But Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger was ambiguous. He said staff copied procedures from the charter conversion statute and took no position on the requirement for teachers’ approval.
The State Board agreed to publish two versions of the Parent Trigger regulations – the Department’s current draft along with changes suggested by other groups – for a 15-day comment period. Alternate wording on the conversion charter dispute, proposed by Parent Revolution, the Assn. of California School Administrators, the California School Boards Assn., and the California Charter Schools Assn., will be among those considered.
Among other changes, the State Board will consider requiring:
- the Department of Education to create a model petition on its website, explaining the options for reform, that parents groups could copy;
- parents groups to translate their petitions in languages spoken by parents in the school;
- the school district to hold at least one public hearing for parents explaining the Parent Trigger options;
- the school district to adopt specific procedures for verifying parent signatures. If they aren’t mandated to take specific steps, school districts could ignore them and violate parents’ rights, as Compton Unified did, Rose and other parent advocates argued.