Indiana legislature considering “parent trigger” bill allowing conversion of public school into charter

The Associated Press (AP) reports in the Evansville Courier & Press  that the Indiana House of Representatives is considering a measure that would allow parents to vote to turn public schools over to charter school operators. The idea is part of a national wave that started in Los Angeles in 2009 and has been considered in statehouses nationwide over the last two years.

“It gives parents the option, if they are in a school that is not meeting the needs of their children, if they get 51 percent of the parents to decide they would like to change that school culture from that of a traditional public school to that of a charter,” said Rep. Robert Behning, who chairs the House education committee and is a co-author of the measure. The proposal would also let parents petition the state school board to have the state take control of their school.

The “parent trigger” almost made it through the Indiana General Assembly last year as a part of a package of education overhauls that included the creation of the nation’s most expansive voucher program and an expansion of the groups that can approve new charter schools in Indiana. Instead, last year lawmakers approved an abridged version of the measure which left the ultimate decision with school boards and limited it to schools that have underperformed for at least two years in a row.

However,  Indiana’s largest teachers’ union says the idea of a full “parent trigger” law leaves two key groups of people out of the decision: teachers and school administrators. “We think that it should be 51 percent of the parents and teachers and educators should have a say,” said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teacher’s Association. “It shouldn’t be strictly a parents’ trigger.”

The “parent trigger” raises essentially the same battle which was fought last year in Indiana and is being fought nationwide, between unions and supporters of traditional public schools and charter school advocates.

The Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution passed the first “parent trigger” through the California Legislature in 2010. While the California law allows parents to put the school in the hands of a charter operator, in the two years since it passed only one school has attempted to use it, McKinley Elementary School in Compton, and is locked in a court battle. What it has turned into, instead, is a tool for parents to use when trying to remove bad principals and teachers, when lobbying their school board, said Linda Serrato, spokeswoman for Parent Revolution.

Two more states, Texas and Mississippi, approved the “parent trigger” last year. Other states, including Arizona and Florida, are considering the measure this year. Kristine Park, policy director with Stand for Children Indiana, said her group is working with Parent Revolution in Indiana to help pass the full “trigger.”

Source: Evansville Courier & Press, 1/21/12, By AP

[Editor's Note: In September 2011 Legal Clips summarized an NBC Nightly News story that reported on passage of so-called "parent trigger" laws in California, Texas and Mississippi. In each, the law stipulates that if at least 51% of the parents of children enrolled in a school sign a petition, they can trigger change. The laws vary in their specifics, but in general, they allow parents at persistently failing schools to fire the teachers and principal, and in some cases, turn the school into a charter school instead. Twenty-two other states are considering giving parents the same kind of power.

Regarding the ongoing court battle in California, in February 2011, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Los Angeles Times reporting that a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge had temporarily blocked Compton Unified School District’s (CUSD) attempt to require parents petitioning to convert their low-performing Compton elementary campus into a charter school to verify their signatures in person with photo identification.]

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