By Steve Gunn
ATLANTA – The parent trigger movement could be spreading to Georgia, with a significantly different twist.
In other states with parent trigger laws, the parents of a majority of students in a chronically failing school have the power to transform it into a charter school, among several other options.
But Georgia State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) is ready to propose a bill that would allow the majority of parents in any given school to transform it into a charter school, whether it’s deemed to be an academic failure or not, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That’s more parent power than anybody has ever suggested, and the teachers unions of Georgia don’t like it one bit. They feel it’s simply an effort by private charter school management companies to hijack public education.
“This is a betrayal of the public,” Verdalia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, was quoted as saying. “It has nothing to do with what good research says is needed for a child to learn. Not a damned thing. You can quote me on that. It has everything to do with putting public funds in private hands.”
Charter schools have been a source of heated debate in Georgia in recent months.
In November voters approved a controversial amendment to the state constitution which gives a state agency the power to allow the establishment new charter schools, regardless of whether local school boards deny their applications.
In the past school boards had the final say on charter applications. And many school boards are naturally opposed to charter schools since they take students and state aid money away from traditional schools.
Now Lindsey, and presumably many other lawmakers, want to put parents firmly in charge of the operation of their local schools.
Lindsey said he’s not sure exactly how the parent trigger would work in his legislation. But he described his rough draft.
If “most” parents of students in a particular school sign a petition demanding conversion to a charter school, the local school board would have to vote on the issue.
Lindsey is not sure if he would require a simple majority or super majority of a school board to reject a parent trigger petition. He’s also not sure if there should be an appeals process for applications that are rejected.
Those details will probably be hashed out in the coming days and weeks.
In any case, Lindsey’s proposal has a great deal of promise. Where does it say that schools must remain traditional government schools if the parents want something else? Why does a school have to be failing before citizens can force a change?
Perhaps the parents of students at a given school are convinced that charter schools are superior. Shouldn’t they get what they want? They are the taxpayers who fund the schools, and they are the customers who are served by the schools.
Shouldn’t the idea be to serve the funders and the customers, rather than school employees who are mostly interested in saving their own jobs?
If parents were to force a charter conversion, and it doesn’t work out, they can always choose to revert to the previous status. Parents want what’s best for their children and they won’t hesitate to change their minds if it’s obvious they’ve made a mistake.
But a strong argument can be made that the choice should belong to parents, not the educrats or union leaders who make a nice living from the traditional education format.