Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to give parents the authority to force changes in troubled public schools, based on a California law promoted by a longtime Democrat and veteran of the Clinton White House.
The plan, which is known as the “parent trigger” law, was touched on by Jindal in his Jan. 17 speech spelling out his 2012 public schools agenda.
Under current rules, failing public schools face state takeover after four years.
Jindal said he wants state lawmakers to enact a “parent trigger” measure to force quicker changes.
“Instead of waiting until the school has been failing for four years, parents can vote to have their school eligible to be a Recovery School District charter after three years,” Jindal said last month.
Charter schools are public schools run by non-government groups.
They are supposed to offer innovative classrooms without much of the red tape that often accompanies traditional public schools.
The Recovery School District, or RSD, oversees state-run schools in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and elsewhere.
Details of any Jindal-backed “parent trigger” law are unclear because no bill has been filed on the issue for the 2012 legislative session, which begins on March 12.
However, converting a troubled public school into a charter operation is one of the options under the 2010 California law.
The change was promoted by Ben Austin, a former member of the California Board of Education and now executive director of Parent Revolution, which calls itself a group formed to promote policies that put students first.
Austin also says “parent trigger” is not part of any GOP bid to topple public schools.
“My background is in Democratic politics,” he said, including various roles working for former President Bill Clinton and as an early supporter of President Barack Obama.
“Most of the organizers at Parent Revolution come out of either Democratic politics or union politics,” Austin said. “And we passed parent trigger with the support of the Obama Administration.”
Under the California measure, 51 percent of parents at a failing school can launch major changes by signing a petition.
The school district can be forced to replace the school’s staff, replace the principal or convert the school to a charter.
“It is a new right for every single parent in California to be able to transform their failing school through community organizations,” Austin said in a telephone interview earlier this week.
“They not only get to trigger radical change,” he said. “They get to pick what kind of change they want for their child and the school community.”
Austin added, “We don’t see this as a new law. It is a new paradigm.”
Jindal proposed the change as part of a sweeping agenda aimed at improving student achievement.
Last year 44 percent of public schools in Louisiana got a “D” or “F” from the state Department of Education.
Critics say the governor’s agenda threatens public education, and unfairly blames teachers for many of the shortcomings.
Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said she wants to reserve her opinion on any “parent trigger” proposal.
“I am saving judgment for the details,” she said.
Haynes questioned whether the plan is part of a national agenda aimed at destroying public education and turning classrooms over to third-party providers.
Caroline Roemer Shirley, president of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said she likes the idea.
“Anything we can do to empower parents or inform parents, give them a stronger say in what is happening in the schools, I like the concept,” Shirley said.
Austin said the petition itself gives low-income parents leverage over school officials used to brushing them off.
by Will Sentell
Capitol news bureau
February 15, 2012