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Senate moves to bolster ‘parent trigger’ law to close failing schools

Dallas Morning News
April 16, 2015

By Terrence Stutz

AUSTIN — Parents would be able to force overhaul or closure of a failing public school after three years, under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate.

The measure by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, would strengthen the state’s “parent trigger” law that allows a low-performing school to be reorganized, put under new management or closed down upon the request of a majority of parents. Currently, the trigger may be activated only after five years of low performance ratings.

“We must make improvements in the existing parent empowerment law to provide a pathway for parents to advocate on behalf of their child,” Taylor said. “This will empower a majority of parents to compel meaningful action to improve individual campuses.”

Taylor said the current time frame is too long and too lenient for schools that are performing poorly. While he originally wanted to shift to a two-year time frame, he agreed to change it to three years after some senators noted the large number of schools that improve their ratings after two failing years.

“We have some schools that are chronically failing, and unfortunately, many parents don’t have the ability to move away from that campus. This gives those parents who are informed and involved the opportunity to change that campus for their own children,” he said.

Critics said the legislation would detract from efforts by parents and teachers to turn around a failing school. Further, they warned it could lead to takeovers of schools by for-profit charter school operators or school management companies.

The measure passed the Senate on a 25-6 vote and now goes to the House for consideration.

One new option added to the parent trigger law is the ability to replace the staff at a failing school.

The bill also requires the state education commissioner to implement changes sought by parents and specifies how parents may petition to reorganize or close the school.

In seeking alternative management, parents can opt to make the campus a charter school that is free of many state requirements.

The legislation specifically prohibits a school district or charter school operator from getting involved in the trigger petition process.

Texas has had a parent trigger law on the books since 2011, but it has hardly been used because few campuses rack up five straight years of unacceptable ratings.

California passed the first parent trigger law in 2010 and is one of six states that now has the process spelled out in state law.