A so-called “parent trigger” bill to encourage private operators to take over neighborhood schools was approved by the Senate Education Committee on an eight-to-zero vote this morning and now heads to the Senate floor. The bill is SB 1263 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston). It is being portrayed by its backers as a bill to promote parental empowerment in efforts to improve low-performing schools. But it follows the blueprint of “parent tricker” legislation being pushed nationwide by extreme groups and private interests that stand to gain from converting neighborhood schools into charter schools or other varieties of privately operated campuses.
A model “parent trigger” bill promoted by these interests through the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the template for SB 1263. SB 1263 as introduced would have authorized a petition by a majority of parents at a school to trigger “repurposing, alternative management, or closure” of a campus after the campus receives low ratings for two years under the state accountability system. The bill as amended in committee this morning sets the trigger point at three years. Other amendments, which we have not yet obtained, added language purporting to inhibit coercive tactics by charter operators seeking parent signatures on a petition and to put drafting of petitions under the control of the Texas Education Agency.
With or without these amendments, SB 1263 is a bad bill. As experience with the “parent trigger” prototype in California has shown, charter operators have a strong financial incentive to invest in signature-gathering on petitions to bring in their outside charter-management team to take over neighborhood schools. Once a charter entity takes over the school, that’s the end of parental empowerment.
After a petition triggers state-approved charter conversion of the targeted neighborhood school, children attending the school lose the benefit of important state quality safeguards, including class-size limits, teacher certification standards, and fair standards both for students facing discipline and for students in need of protection from bullying and other dangerous and disruptive behavior. Ironically, with the “parent trigger” model, parental rights under the Texas Education Code also go by the wayside when a neighborhood school is converted to a state-approved charter operation.
In contrast to this phony version of parental empowerment, there is a real version elsewhere in the Texas Education Code. Under Section 12.052, a majority of parents and a majority of teachers at a campus are empowered at any time to petition their school board jointly for an in-district charter campus—a different, homegrown kind of charter—without having to forgo any of the educational quality standards and safeguards in the Education Code. This model has worked well in San Antonio ISD and Austin ISD.
Please contact your state senator and tell him or her Texas can do better than to adopt a “parent trigger” mechanism being propagated by out-of-state interests. Please urge your state senator to support real parental empowerment by opposing SB 1263.