Mayors Back Parent-Trigger Laws for “Drop-out Factories”

By: - June 19, 2012 12:00 am

The nation’s mayors have endorsed an approach that gives parents more say in how to run failing schools, an issue that has divided state legislatures.

Led by a posse of mostly Democrat mayors, including Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa, Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson and Newark’s Cory Booker,  the city leaders on Saturday (June 16) threw their support behind “parent trigger” policy initiatives, which would allow parents to demand changes in chronically troubled schools that the politicians dubbed “drop-out factories.”

Meeting in Orlando, Florida for the United Mayors Conference, the mayors unanimously called for legislation that would allow “parents to choose from one of at least four intervention options to improve their child’s school: turnaround, restart, school closure, or transformation.”

According to the resolution, nearly 2,000 high schools are drop-out factories where 40 percent or more of the entering freshman class fail to graduate in their senior year.

“Mayors understand at a local level that most parents lack the tools they need to turn their schools around,” Villaraigosa told Reuters.

The “parent trigger” concept inspires passionate feelings and support for it crosses party lines. Teachers’ groups have opposed such legislation as a Trojan Horse attempt to push charter schools across the country, while some parents’ groups argue that drastic action is needed to repair underperforming school.

“To have the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorse parent trigger is monumentally huge,” says Michael Trujillo, national advocacy director for the California-based Parent Revolution, which pushed the first “parent trigger” law in California and supports legislative efforts across the country.

“This is a statement to empower parents,” Trujillo says.

Others, such as Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, disagree. The mayor’s proposal, she says, is a “stealth move” to benefit charter school operators.

“If the mayors of this nation really wanted to listen to the priorities of parents,” says Haimson, who co-founded Parents Across America, which opposes parent-trigger laws, “they would strengthen neighborhood public schools by reducing class size, by providing a well-rounded education and de-emphasizing standard testing.”

California was the first state to pass parent-trigger legislation in 2010. Texas and Mississippi followed suit in 2011, while Louisiana passed a similar law early this year, according to Trujillo. Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York will vote on the issue this year.

A parent-trigger bill failed to pass in Florida earlier this year, as reported by the Washington Post. The bill, sponsored by former Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, was opposed by the Florida PTA and other parent groups, who argued the legislation would rob the state’s public school system.

The issue has even attracted Hollywood’s attention. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter will star later this year in “Won’t Back Down,” a movie loosely based on real-life parents’ attempts to take over their children’s schools. Just like the parent-trigger legislation, the movie itself is inspiring controversy — Parents Across America has dismissed the film as fantasy.

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Teresa Wiltz

Teresa Wiltz covers welfare, housing and social services for Stateline. Previously, she worked for the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.