A contentious Senate committee hearing on Tuesday pitted advocates of education reform against those who worry changes will weaken public education in the state as they discussed a measure that would make it easier for Texas parents to ask school boards to take action against failing schools.
State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, said his Senate Bill 1263 would simplify the "parent trigger" law, which is modeled after a similar measure that passed in California in 2011. Under Taylor's proposal, parents could petition to request specific action — closure, new management or conversion to a charter school — for any school rated academically unacceptable in two consecutive years.
Currently, schools whose performances have been deemed "unacceptable" for three consecutive years must be either reorganized or reconstituted as a charter school. If the school is reorganized but continues to perform unacceptably for two more years, a majority of parents can petition the school board to take specific action — which can include closure, changing the school’s management or conversion to a charter school. In 2011, the last year that TEA issued ratings, the performance of 496 out of 8,526 Texas schools was deemed unacceptable.
Taylor presented the bill as a way to quicken the process of finding solutions for failed schools. Referring to Texas’ current parent-trigger regime, which could take six years before parents could force action, he urged lawmakers to act.
“Six years is a lifetime to a young child,” he said.
Gloria Romero, former Democratic majority leader of the California state Senate and author of that state’s parent trigger law, the first in the nation, said the bill would “allow parents to become architects of their children’s future.”
Romero’s initiative initially proved controversial in California, but it has since been adopted by five other states.
At Tuesday's hearing, most debate over the bill centered on the issue of state support for charter schools.
Patty Quinzi, who spoke on behalf of the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, argued that the bill was "more of a hair trigger than a parent trigger.”
“This bill is presented as one that would empower parents, but really is designed to empower the state to easily hand over control of a neighborhood school to a private charter operator,” she said.
Quinzi said that tools already exist to allow parents to deal with underperforming schools.
But James Golsan of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank, said that the legislation would measurably improve the lives of Texas students and give parents a sense of agency.
“Parent trigger laws are fundamentally about empowerment. In Texas, we don’t have a lot of parent empowerment,” he said.
The bill is set to be reconsidered by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. If passed, it will be eligible for debate in the full chamber.