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"Parent Trigger" School Bill Clears Texas Senate

If a public school isn't getting the job done, parents would have greater power to demand changes under legislation passed by the Texas Senate on Wednesday.

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A controversial policy known as a "parent trigger" law — which supporters say prompts parent involvement and quicker turnarounds at struggling schools — cleared its first major legislative hurdle Wednesday.

With little debate, the Texas Senate approved legislation allowing parents of students at underperforming public schools to demand fixes from the state commissioner of education including hiring new staff, contracting with a charter school operator to take over management or closing the school altogether.

The bill passed 25 to 6, opposed by Democrats José Menéndez of San Antonio, Kirk Watson of Austin, Rodney Ellis and John Whitmire of Houston, Judith Zaffirini of Laredo and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio.

A version of the law passed in 2011 has largely gone unused because it applies only to campuses rated "unacceptable" by the state for five years or more.

With changes adopted on the floor Wednesday, Senate Bill 14 from state Sen. Larry Taylor would lower the number of years needed to prompt action under the law to three.

"You take five years from an elementary school child? They’re never going to catch up," said Taylor, R-Friendswood, during the bill's committee hearing in March. 

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 operators. 

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.

"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 in March. "You are calling it a parent empowerment law, but looking at the for-profit motive, once those parents sign the petition they are done."

The legislation, which is among the education reform measures Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has prioritized this session, now proceeds to the House.

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