Yesterday a judge in California ruled in a case involving the state’s so-called “parent trigger” law that parents who signed a petition to convert their school to a charter would not be permitted to rescind their signatures. They could choose to sign, but they could not change their mind afterwards.
This was a law passed in 2010 by the legislature to allow parents at a low-performing school to seize control of their school, fire the staff, and hire a charter operator to run the school.
In fact, the law was a stealth tactic by charter advocates to gain a larger market share by duping parents.
This is an excellent summary of what happened, written by San Francisco parent advocate and journalist Caroline Grannan.
An organization called Parent Revolution, funded by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation, has led the “parent trigger” efforts.
It has sent paid organizers into two communities in California to gather signatures. Both ended in legal limbo as supporters and opponents challenged the validity of the signatures.
In the second of the two districts, the targeted school was Desert Trails in Adelanto, where Parent Revolution circulated two petitions. One called for improvements in the two schools, the other called for the conversion to a charter. When only the petition to convert to a charter was presented to the local school board, the battle was on.
As the wrangling intensified, a number of parents asked to have their names taken off the petition. They had changed their mind. They did not want their school converted to a charter.
The judge ruled yesterday that they were not permitted to take their name off the petition.
This was exciting for charter advocates, even winning them a celebratory editorial in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal exulted:
The ruling effectively hands Desert Trails to the parents, ordering the district out of their way as the judge says they can “immediately begin the process of soliciting and selecting charter school proposals.” This represents a potentially revolutionary power shift. For all the PTA meetings and solemn assurances from superintendents and union leaders that parent input into public schools is sacred, the ability of parents to force change has typically been nil.
The editorial sounds as though the Journal joined Occupy Wall Street and would be equally happy if disgruntled tenants seized control of public housing or other public facilities. Somehow, I doubt it.
There are complicating factors to the ruling. One is the inevitable appeal: If parents sign a petition, why should they not be free to take their name off? Is their choice only for one time, never for the future?
And the ruling ignores the clear language of the law, which does allow parents to remove their names from a petition: The language in the “Final Statement of Reasons” on the Parent Empowerment Act states, “Nothing in these regulations precludes a parent/guardian from withdrawing his/her signature from a petition at any time,” according to the Victorville Daily Press, the local daily newspaper.
And the other, as pointed out in a recent Los Angeles Times editorial, is that charter operators have lost their appetite for taking control of low-performing schools. They much prefer to start new schools, where they can select the students. This increases their odds of producing high test scores.
Florida parents will be watching this controversy closely, as Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee and ALEC will be back next year, after losing on the “parent trigger” this past spring. The united opposition of Florida parents stopped the move to create another way to convert public schools to private management.