Under California's "parent trigger" law, parents at underperforming public schools can force dramatic changes in management if half or more sign a petition. It's a well-intentioned law that school reformers have applauded, but it is desperately in need of certain fixes. The most recent example involves a rule that was intended to bring more openness to the process — but which in practice appears to disenfranchise some parents.
The issue came up in last month's successful campaign to transform 24th Street Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In the least controversial, most vigorously supported trigger effort so far, more than two-thirds of the parents at the persistently low-performing school signed a petition to require major change. But unlike the state's first such petition, which demanded that a school in Compton be turned over to charter operator Celerity Educational Group (it was ultimately unsuccessful), the petition by the 24th Street parents merely called on charter operators and others to submit competing proposals to run the school. Only later, on April 10, did the parents vote on the proposals; the option recommended by parent leaders, a charter/L.A. Unified hybrid, won.
But not all parents were allowed to vote. In accordance with regulations passed by the state Board of Education, only those who had signed the petition could cast ballots in the follow-up election. The board had complicated, well-intentioned motives for denying more than one-third of parents the right to participate — but those reasons ultimately are unpersuasive. In the end, the decision on the future of 24th Street Elementary was supported by 29% of the parent body.