A Senate committee takes up the parent trigger bill today.
Originally, House Bill 123 allowed a majority of the parents or teachers in a failing school to petition the school board for a complete overhaul of a the school by converting to charter school status or another turnaround model. The bill specifies that the parents can remove school personnel, including the principal, or mandate the complete reconstitution of the school. In a feature unique to the Georgia bill, even parents of high performing schools can apply for their schools to convert to a charter school.
But House Bill 123 underwent dramatic change in its move from House passage to Senate consideration. The Senate eliminated any mention of teachers in failing schools being able to petition for a management overhaul. The Senate version limits that power to parents.
I asked the bill’s sponsor, House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, for a comment.
“We’ll see what the Senate committee does with my bill. I obviously like giving teachers a greater voice since I put it in the original bill. If the Senate decides to modify the bill, I told the teacher reps that I would work with them on other ways to accomplish this,” he said.
Two education activists sent me this essay in opposition to the bill. Latasha Walker is an advocate for arts in education. Parent Annette Davis Jackson is executive director of the Ken Ford Foundation, a music education corporation.
By Annette Davis Jackson and Latasha Walker
The General Assembly is back at work fixing education. Its latest solution is known as the “Parent Trigger” bill. The “trigger” is a mechanism by which parents in a low performing school district can petition to fire everyone or convert to a charter system.
Sounds innocent, right? Unfortunately, House Bill 123 does nothing to fix Georgia’s educational system. Rather it sacrifices our children, punishes public school families and firmly places the state in the homes of Georgians.
While the bill is well intended, no amount of spin can explain away the four fatal flaws of this bill. We are parents of three public school children, grades 6, 7 and 8.
Allow us to explain why these flaws make HB 123 bad law for families:
Over the last decade, the Georgia Assembly has reduced public school funding by more than a billion dollars. Approximately two-thirds of all school districts are open for less than the norm of 180 days. Teachers across the state are furloughed regularly. Funding is so anemic that in places like Floyd County over 100 certified and administrative staff are being laid off.
All of this means more students with fewer teachers and even fewer resources. Now, via HB 123, the Legislature wants to take even more resources and shift even more costs to taxpayers.
The first fatal flaw in HB 123 is that it is an unfunded mandate. This legislation adds more rules and regulations and increases our financial burden.
The bill states: “The local school system may provide transportation for students in non-Title I schools. In any year in which the General Assembly does not appropriate funds for the provision of transportation to non-Title I students, the parent or guardian shall assume responsibility for the transportation of that student.”
Translation: Good luck getting your kid to school. Supporters say that will only happen if the General Assembly does not fund transportation. For those of us with children in packed middle schools, remember that Georgia just raised the classroom size caps because the state cannot afford more buildings and more teachers. How long do you think it will take before the General Assembly cuts even more funding for transportation? Perhaps GDOT can authorize more HOT lanes and toll booths across the state to fund school bus routes.
The second fatal flaw is that HB 123 gives the state the power to dictate to communities what reforms they can implement. For Republicans, this type of government intervention runs contrary to their very philosophy. For Democrats, the issue is not government intervention, but the lack of funding provided to implement the types of interventions outlined.
Rather than encouraging local solutions or funding the full 180 day school year for every district and ending furloughs, HB 123 limits unhappy parents to two options: Convert to a charter or pick from an already created list of reforms.
The third fatal flaw is that HB 123 fails to protect certain groups of parents. The bill prohibits harassment of those who are involved with petitioning to change the school management or become a charter school. This is fair and the right thing to do for all sides. But in its silence about the other side, those who don’t want the changes, HB 123 implies it is OK to harass parents and families who do not support a petition. It is foolish to think that harassment is a one-way street, particularly when the subject is emotionally charged.
The fourth fatal flaw is that this bill does very little to fix the problems we know exist. We know that it takes at least a few years before any reform can fully take hold, yet this legislation authorizes a potential shift after only one year. We know that high student-to-teacher ratios are bad for teaching and even worse for learning, but the caps on classroom sizes are only going higher.
We know that many rural school districts are suffering under the strain of the recession to meet their basic budgets, yet this legislation will shift even more money away. There’s plenty to fix that will improve our educational outcomes, yet they are ignored in favor of a something untested that has no track record of success.
We have to do better by our students. Georgia can and must improve its graduation rate and that means being willing to push the boundaries. The question is what boundaries are we pushing?
Rather than demanding that our teachers and our schools do more with less of everything, perhaps the solution is simple: Restore the full school calendar and incentivize high performing teachers.
While these solutions can and should be debated, the flaws of HB 123 are clear. This bill is about punishment rather than reform, state intervention instead of state support.
The government should not dictate which reforms are going to work best. We cannot protect one group of parents and not the other. Last, we simply cannot ignore the problems that now exist and can be fixed. We need solutions, but we do not need HB 123.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog