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SBE Taking another Look at Parent Trigger Regs

By Jeff Hudson - April 21, 2011

The State Board of Education (SBE) was expected to spend much of Thursday’s meeting discussing the latest version of state regulations regarding the implementation of the Parent Trigger law – the fourth time the SBE has discussed the matter in recent months.

The Parent Trigger issue dates back to January 2010, when the California Legislature hastily pushed through a bill by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), which was quickly signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (the famously “post partisan” Republican). The bill was primarily aimed at putting California in a position to claim a portion of the federal money for education reform being advanced through President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program. The Parent Trigger portion of Romero’s bill called for the creation of a list of 75 low performing schools where parents would have the option of gathering a majority of parent signatures to force the school to pursue one of four options, including conversion to charter school status.

The final language of Romero’s bill was the product of last minute negotiations, and the bill was ultimately approved at the eleventh hour. As you might expect for a bill that was shaped in some haste, there are aspects of the legislation that are vague. And during the past year, Sen. Romero left office, as did Gov. Schwarzenegger, and new Gov. Jerry Brown (a Democrat) has overhauled the State Board of Education with new appointees of his choosing.

Education reform groups like Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution (headed by Ben Austin, one of the Schwarzenegger appointees to the State Board of Education who was abruptly dropped from that body when Brown took office) remain passionate in their advocacy for the Parent Trigger law.

There has been one effort thus far to invoke the Parent Trigger – in Compton Unified, where parents at McKinley Elementary gathered signatures in a drive that was apparently supported by Parent Revolution.  The Compton school board slapped down that effort by rejecting the petitions, which quickly led to intervention by a Superior Court judge. There have been allegations of improper actions and intimidation – any sort of resolution of the matter would appear to be a long way off.

The newly-appointed lineup of Brown appointees to the State Board of Education discussed the Parent Trigger in March, and voted to extend the emergency regulations for implementing the law that had been pushed through by a previous SBE lineup of Schwarzenegger appointees a few months earlier.

Since March, representatives of Parent Trigger, the Association of California School Administrators, and other stakeholder groups have held meetings in an effort to develop compromise language for permanent Parent Trigger regulations.

The draft language in the 21-page document going before the SBE on Thursday morning gets into considerable detail about the process of verifying parent signatures, the requirements for districts to notify parents that their school is eligible for change under Parent Trigger, and other aspects of implementing the law.

The situation is also influx because the Obama Administration is expected to overhaul a number of federal standards as part of the expected reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – which will be the Obama Administrations effort to replace the much criticized No Child Left Behind legislation that is the legacy of the previous Bush administration.

In addition, Sen. Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) has introduced AB 203, which at this point is what is known as a “placeholder bill,” for the purpose of enacting a “cleanup” of the Parent Trigger law. AB 203 is described as requiring the California Department of Education “to provide, on its Internet Web site, information in easy to understand terms regarding the petition process and five intervention options that parents and legal guardians may request. The bill would also make clarifying changes to, and state legislative intent regarding, those intervention petition provisions.” The fine language of Brownley’s bill would undoubtedly go through changes as the legislation works its way through committee review.

The Parent Trigger is a hot issue in some parts of the state – particularly Los Angeles and Compton. But in many other parts of the state, where local school districts do not have campuses on the list of 75 schools eligible for the Parent Trigger – the issue remains somewhat in the background, and of much less immediate concern that the severe budgetary hit those districts will face in the next few months if some sort of compromise agreement on the state budget is not reached in Sacramento.

Check next week’s EdBrief for a discussion of the SBE’s discussion and action this week.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.