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Texas Lawmakers Consider "Parent Trigger" Law

Hoping to prompt quicker turnarounds at struggling schools, Texas lawmakers are considering a controversial policy that would let parents petition the state to make changes at their kids' campuses.

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Hoping to prompt parent involvement and quicker turnarounds at struggling schools, Texas lawmakers are considering a controversial policy known as a "parent trigger" law. 

A state Senate panel heard testimony Thursday on legislation allowing parents of students at underperforming public schools to campaign to make changes at their campuses — including hiring new staff, contracting with a charter school operator to take over management or closing the school altogether.

Texas passed a version of this law in 2011, but it has gone largely unused because it applied only to campuses that had been rated "unacceptable" by the state for five years or more. 

Senate Bill 14, from state Sen. Larry Taylorwould lower the number of years needed to prompt action under the law to two.

"You take five years from an elementary school child? They’re never going to catch up," said Taylor, R-Friendswood, who added that the bill provided a "viable way" for parents to advocate for their children. 

Opponents of the policy say it creates conflict instead of positive engagement within local communities, and can often mean turning over control of schools to third-party charter management companies. 

"Our concern on this bill is the profit motive that could be driven by some educational management organizations," John Gray of the Texas State Teachers Association told senators on Thursday. "You are calling it a parent empowerment law, but looking at the for-profit motive, once those parents sign the petition they are done."

They also point to questions about how the process has played out in other states, where parents have complained they were misled into signing petitions by charter operators looking to take over neighborhood schools. 

California passed the first parent trigger law in 2010. Five states besides Texas — Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio — have passed versions of the law since then.

Gabe Rose, who represents Parent Revolution, a group that has worked to implement the law in California, told senators on Thursday that it had served as a "powerful catalyst for district-parent partnerships."

Though he said it was "too early to have a lot of meaningful academic results," Rose said parents at six different schools had used the law to push for changes, noting that only one of those resulted in an outside charter school taking over management. 

In addition to Taylor, who is the chairman of the Senate's education committee, the proposal has the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who named it among his top legislative priorities for education.    

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