Texas AFT Strongly Opposes “Parent Tricker” Legislation in Senate Testimony

At a hearing of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi forcefully opposed a new, accelerated version of “parent trigger” legislation that would help charter operators take over neighborhood schools. Speaking in opposition to SB 1263 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), Quinzi said the so-called “parent trigger” model “is presented as one that empowers parents but really is designed to empower the state to hand over control of a neighborhood school to a private charter operator.”

Experience with the “parent trigger” prototype law in California bears this out, Quinzi said. Parents there have been asked to sign a “petition to improve your school” without clearly understanding that the petition actually calls for handing over control of the school to a specific charter operator. The beginning and end of parental empowerment under the “parent trigger” is the parent’s signature on a petition for charter takeover. After that, the charter entity, once handed the keys to the building, has total control of the school. Lowering the threshold for the “parent trigger” to just two years of low school ratings would short-circuit school turnaround efforts already under way and encourage even more rapid charter conversion.

Quinzi stressed that, once in the hands of the charter operator, the children attending the school no longer would have 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, she said, “with the ‘parent trigger’ model, parental rights under the Texas Education Code would also go by the wayside once a neighborhood school is converted to a charter operation.”

In contrast to this “astroturf” version of parental empowerment, Quinzi told the committee, 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 acting together are empowered to petition their school board for an in-district charter campus, 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, to name just two examples.

We need this sort of real parental empowerment, Quinzi said, not a “parent trigger” model propagated by private interests for their own private benefit. SB 1263 was left pending but could come up for a vote in committee as early as Thursday, March 28.