Compton’s Parent Trigger Law Left in Limbo

Welcome to ground zero for education reform's biggest showdown.

By Julianne Hing Feb 11, 2011

There are two simultaneous fights happening in California around the state’s parent-trigger law. The state board of education, a typically quiet board, has begun tackling parent-initiated charter school takeovers. On Wednesday the California State Board of Education delayed a ruling on the future of the state’s brand new parent trigger law. The law, which squeaked through the legislature last year, allows parents at failing schools to demand that school’s closure and charter school takeover if they can gather 51 percent of parents’ support for such a move.

On the ground, parents at Compton’s McKinley Elementary School are wrestling with Compton Unified School District to force the failing school to be taken over by an outside charter school company, Celerity Educational Group. Charter schools are independently run but publicly financed.

The state board said it would gather a working group to consider the process of implementing the law, and would take up the issue in March, the Los Angeles Times reported. The board said it would not consider proposals from the previous board, and would instead be considering input from other stakeholders.

The state board will reconvene on March 9 to decide on whether to extend the law, which was intended only as emergency policy and is set to expire on March 15, the Sacramento Bee reported. The state board fight is supposedly about the implementation of the new law, and it could very well be that this is just the usual state education policy rigamarole.

But charter school proponents consider Wednesday’s move the first attack against the parent trigger law from a brand new state board which many consider to be far less supportive of the national education reform agenda overall.

The fate of the parent trigger law has been the subject of much speculation since Brown shook up the state board of education at the beginning of the year. His new appointments shifted the balance of power from philanthropists and charter school enthusiasts to teachers union backers and educators. Most significant for the future of the parent trigger law was Ben Austin’s ouster. Austin is chief executive of the Los Angeles-based group Parent Revolution which has helped organize Compton’s McKinley Elementary School parents, and a parent trigger law proponent.

Pro-charter school takeover parents won a key victory last week when a judge forced the CUSD to halt its signature verification process. Back in December 60 percent of McKinley parents signed a petition demanding CUSD give up the school. Since then, parents who signed the petition said that they were duped into signing a petition they do not support. Others said that McKinley teachers who were opposed to a charter school takeover tried to influence parents and convince them not to sign the petition.

The state board of education demanded an investigation into the allegations of misconduct, and the district, which is opposed to Celerity taking over the school, initiated a signature verification process. The school asked parents who supported McKinley’s closure to come by the school to re-sign the petition and verify their own and their children’s identity, which is when parents sued the district. The Compton parents’ initiative was the first attempt to use the parent trigger law.

Charter school skeptics have said that the Compton parents’ initiative is not the display of independent organizing it appears to be. Aside from his duties at Parent Revolution, Austin has been on the payroll of the charter school conglomerate Green Dot.