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Republican Lindsey's push again for Georgia's Parent Trigger Act

Rep. Lindsey wants to push again another Parent Trigger Act; but we should look at the standardization exam industry that make schools appear to fail.

The H.B. 123 “Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act” was currently sponsored by State Representatives Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta), Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth), and Jan Jones (R-Milton), with Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), David Casas (R-Lilburn) and Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell).  Rep. Morgan is the spouse of lobbyist David Morgan for the American Federation for Children, pushing for charters and a member of the Cobb County BOE.

In a January press release Rep. Lindsey stated, “As I have said in the past, charter schools are not the magic silver bullet to fix Georgia’s education problems—there is no silver bullet...(but) I do believe that options must exist so children across the state may live up to their full potential.  This bill will further the viability of options for parents and teachers across the state.”

The current parent trigger act uses broad language similar to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB); to allow parents and teachers to convert a public school into a charter school by more than 50% of the parents or teachers, if public schools fail in performance.  The one-size-fits-all learning model of NCLB was why charter schools increased for over 10 years.  The local school board can act within 60 days of receiving a petition and can reject the petition by a 2/3 vote.

If the power of education should be with parents and teacher, what about the language of the bill that states “petitions to convert existing schools to charter schools or to impose turnaround models...provide for notice to the State Board of Education; to provide for local board approval.”  No language in the bill about Georgia Charter Schools Commission (GCSC) that was just appointed to approve charters, which is above the State Board of Education (SBOE) and local school boards (which already could approve a charter application, before the GCSC existed).

When it comes to who the “Charter petitioner” are, they can be “a local school, local board of education, private individual, private organization, or state or local public entity that submits a petition for a charter....(but) does not include home study programs or schools, sectarian schools, religious schools, private for profit schools, private educational institutions not established, operated, or governed by the State of Georgia, or existing private schools.”  A “private individual” or “private organization,” could mean any individual or pro-charter advocate group could petition to convert, but not a religious or private school.

The petition is based on “a majority of the parents or guardians of students who are eligible to enroll in one of the schools within the high school cluster the following year,...by the signatures of more than 50 percent of such parents or guardians.”  The term “eligible to enroll” is suspect.  Does this mean if students that are eligible, but not attending can petition the school?

Other than parents, a petition by “A majority of the faculty and instructional staff members of the local school, or for a high school cluster.”  The “signatures of more than 50 percent of such faculty and instructional staff members; or vote of more than 50 percent of such faculty and instructional staff members taken by secret ballot at a public meeting called with two weeks' advance notice.”

To define a “Low-achieving school” means a public school has “unacceptable ratings” on achievement, a gap closure, no student progress; or is the “lowest 20 percent of all public schools in this state based on school performance as determined by the Department of Education; a public elementary or middle school with less than 65% of the students across all grades meet or exceed performance standards in reading and math; or a public high school has graduation rates of less than 65%.”

This means more schools can be converted by this broad language to rate any “low-achieving” and little tolerance for failure by any school.  No language in the bill of conversions into a magnet school, some other experimental school, or even a charter or private school converting into a public school.  The only conversion is into charters, which is not a choice only one option for a different learning model outside of a public school.

Once the petition is submitted it can use the “turnaround models” for low-achieving schools in six ways:   Remove school personnel that did not improve student progress; complete reconstitution by removing all personnel and appointing new staff; mandate parents can relocate to another public school and provide transportation; mandate “a monitor, master, or management team” paid by the school system; implement an intensive student achievement improvement plan; or mandate a complete restructuring of the school's governance.

Broad language of no tolerance to fail, much like NCLB to have 100% of students pass the exams.  The “management team” could mean a nonprofit Charter Management Organizations (CMO) like KIPP or for-profit Educational Management Organizations (EMO) like Imagine Schools to operate the entire school, and charge taxpayers a management fee of 12%; which may not save the school system money.

Under the NCLB law, schools with Title I funding, had to have all students in the school pass the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  If the school failed to pass all students under the AYP for 2 years, it was publicly labeled “in need of improvement,” which offered students to transfer to a better school.  If the school failed for 3 consecutive years, would offer free tutoring or other supplemental services.  If failed for 4 years, the school was labeled needing “corrective action,” by replacing staff, curriculum and or increase the time spent in class.

If the school failed AYP for 5 years, this would mean restructuring the public school.  If failed after 6 consecutive years the option was:  to close the school; hire a private company to operate the school; have the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) to operate the school; or convert the public school into a charter school.  This parent trigger act has similar language as the NCLB, which would encourage “teaching to the test” with standardization exams to justify dependent on terms like “low-achieving” and “unacceptable ratings,” for even more conversions.

If a local board denies a charter petition then, “state the reasons for the denial and provide a written statement of the denial to the petitioning group and the state board; provided, however, that a denial of a petition shall not preclude the petitioning group from submitting a revised petition.”

A denial of a petition can go beyond the “state board” or SBOE, to the second state board, the GCSC where “The state board may mediate between the local board and the petitioning group whose petition was denied to assist in resolving the issues which led to such denial by the local board.”  The process of a petition goes first to the local school board, if denied then goes to the SBOE and if denied now, will go to the newly created GCSC, for three boards.

If “Any school that is converted to charter status or subjected to one or more turnaround models pursuant to this article shall continue to serve the attendance boundary and to serve all the students who attended the school in the school year prior to the conversion or turnaround.”  This means charters could not turn away any student even by a lottery, since they “serve all the students who attend the school” prior to the conversion or turnaround, but could later drop failing students afterward to keep the school's scores high.

This is not Georgia’s first parent trigger act that was sponsored, and later voted down.  In 2011-12, Rep. Chip Rogers (R-Majority Leader) and John Albers (R-Deputy Whip) sponsored the S.B. 68 Parent Trigger Act, to allow parents to petition the local school board for low-achieving public schools and convert into a charter.

Some Tea Party members joined with Rep. Jason Carter (D-Senator) and Vincent D. Fort (D-Democratic Whip), to oppose Roger's bill.

Senator Rogers, tells NYT that school districts “have a monopoly they wish to protect...But if they’re not serving their kids, you have to give them an additional option.”  Again, there should be more options than just public, charter and private schools, if parents really want local choices.

Another bill that failed was in the 2011-12 session by:  Rep. Lindsey, Kathy Ashe, Ed Setzler, Mark Hamilton, Brooks Coleman and Mike Dudgeon, which sponsored H.B. 731 Parent Trigger Act.

Some have concerns of giving more tax dollars to charter schools, creating a second public bureaucracy when we have not tried more choices other than just public, charter or private schools.  Dr. John Barge, the Superintendent of GADOE said, "I do have concerns about and increases in state revenue being geared toward a small number of special approved charter schools before we start restoring funds that have been cut from all of our schools."

Lindsey said, “We have been working with parents and educators on this issue for some time...However, the events at North Atlanta High School highlight the need for this kind of legislation.  Parents, students, and school staff were completely cut out of the decision making process.  That is no way to instill needed confidence to improve our schools.”

Lindsey believes “An integral part of improving education in Georgia is greater parent buy-in to their children’s education.  The parent trigger proposal will assist parents with this in both well-established and struggling low performance schools.”

Only 7 states have parent trigger laws, the first was California in 2010 and later Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas.  Georgia and 20 other states, failed to pass previous parent trigger laws.

Lyn Carden, the board chair of the Georgia Charter Education Foundation and operates two charter schools (which were denied by the local school board) tells NYT, “Education is one of the few things in our country that you have no choice.”  Carden believes, “You live in this neighborhood, you go to this school...For some parents, it works great, but not all schools are right for all kids.”  This means there must be more than just three choices.

The problem is there are not just 3 choices of public, private or charters, but 8 choices of:  public schools; magnet schools; charter schools; homeschooling; virtual cyber charter schools; parochial religious private schools; nonprofit independent private schools; and proprietary private schools.  Each based on the parent's income, which makes the choice for the parent to homeschool, go to a public or private school.

For 2012 according to the GADOE, there were 217 Georgia public charter schools out of the 2,289 total public schools; so there are 2,072 traditional public schools.

Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers tells Patch when it comes to parent trigger act, “We knew about it since 2010 from ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), and (we have) not seen from ALEC (anything) other than Big Business and profit.”  ALEC is a forum for lawmakers and private companies for solutions in society based “on free markets, limited government and constitutional division of powers between the federal and state governments.”

In January, the newly appointed seven commissioners for the GCSC would help convert more public schools, if a parent trigger act was passed.  The local school board does not have the final say or authority to deny charters now, thanks to H.R. 1162 Amendment One and the GCSC.

Turner sees a larger agenda with this bill, “The parent trigger is just one piece of the pie, there is H.B. 1162 and H.B. 797 that (now) goes into effect,” which recreated the GCSC.  Turner believes, “The language of the ballot, like H.B. 797 is that charter schools have no standardization to abide by” when it comes to obeying state and federal laws, compared to traditional public schools.

Is there local control and choice, when parents are given appointed commissioners or when family’s incomes determine their choice?  Herb Garrett, executive director of Georgia School Superintendents Association tells NYT, “We are not arguing the merits or demerits of charter schools...We’re just saying that decisions about new schools in a community ought to be made by elected officials who represent those citizens, not a bunch of political appointees in Atlanta who have no idea what’s going on in a local school district.”

A valid point, since elected representatives like the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House, make the decisions to appoint the GCSC.  Private companies like EMOs and the GCSC, are not elected officials by local parents, and charter school boards has limited local power.

Turner believes that “If it passes, the real deal is when it is implemented.  The hired guns and businesses will be running these (public) schools...The whole deal is about placing tax payer money into special interest hands.”  These special interests of companies, lobbyists and nonprofits, which are not elected by local parents.

Turner tells Patch “This (school choice) movement is not about improving education, but lawmakers and lobby groups that influence them.  Instead, of looking at what works and what is valid; where there should be unbiased research (to determine) what does work...Research shows that charters do as well or worse as public schools.”

Turner believe that the NCLB program was a failure and lawmakers that supported NCLB and other bills like it, with little public debate on a better plan should be a shamed.  Turner tells Patch, “It was like they brought a pig in the sack.  Shame on those politicians who pushed this bill agenda on the public, while Georgia gets an F on ethics in politics.”

Turner was referring to Georgia's F grade on ethics by the State Integrity Investigation.  Georgia has too much influence from non-local groups and out-of-state backers that do not pay Georgia taxes, which knows nothing of what is needed locally.  Why be surprised that Georgia is number 50 out of 50 states, on ethics?

Elizabeth Hooper, a mother of three in Alpharetta public schools tells NYT, “I find it offensive that voters literally have to have a law degree to figure out what is going on here...The General Assembly is using the voter as a pawn.”  This is what happened with H.R. 1162 Amendment One to create the GCSC again, after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional, and voters were mislead by the language on the ballot that did not refer to creating a third board.

One issue some claim with charters is their increase in racial segregation.  Rep. Vincent D. Fort (D) and chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus tells NYT, “Charter schools tend to resegregate or reinforce segregation,” like at Pataula Charter Academy that was approved by the GCSC.  Pataula's 358 students were 75% white and supports 5 different counties, with a black population ranging from 50 to 90% per county.

Monique Braswell, president of the Richmond County PTA tells WRDW-TV, “I think this is entirely too much power” for parents with a parent trigger.

Braswell said, “We have too many angry parents at our system right now that would just be trying to get rid of administrators and teachers based on their personal emotions.”

Braswell said if, “We're firing administrators and we're firing teachers, who's going to pay them to leave?  They're not just being fired and walking out the door without anything.”  One Florida school administrator was fired under the parent trigger law, and later paid $500K severance.  Braswell said, “This is going to bankrupt our public school system.”

Lindsey tells WRDW-TV “The ultimate decision of whether to accept the petition of the parents or not would be with the local school board.”  If so, then why does H.R. 1162 Amendment One allow the GCSC to approve charters, and supersede the local school board decisions, which already could approve charters?  With the GCSC, this means the local boards does not have the “ultimate decision.”

Lindsey tells WABE 90.1 FM, “One of the problems we have in this state is that we have a large number of systems that are spending a disproportionate share of their education dollars on bureaucracy rather than on the classroom.”  Bureaucracy is code for teacher and staff is paid too much, and there are too many laws.  Have you ever seen a private company that did not have its own bureaucracy; was very innovative, flexible or efficient by management to allow delegating local control by workers, but instead a top down hierarchy?

If bureaucracy and too many laws are the issue of education, then maybe some parents that want to convert to charter schools are doing it out of the displaced anger from the changes in our society from:  Outsourced jobs; the lack of mobility; and schools that collectively calculate all student test scores to determine if they get more funding.  This displaced anger is put onto teachers, not on the lawmakers and companies that created this standardization bureaucracy of exams.

This education bureaucracy to profit from taxpayer dollars by private company contracts, which lobbied lawmakers to create a standardization system to make all students the same, is the true target of reform.  The true anger should be directed to those that created the exam bureaucracy in the first place.  To trust one human organization will be superior than another human organization does not mean it will be better; since both are operated by humans.

To transfer children, like A-B students to one school and put C-F students in another, will increase the school's overall performance score for the A-B students, but will be a brain drain for the C-F students.  By having a diverse level of A-F students in one school, makes the school appear to be failing, because you added all students’ scores together.  The issue comes down to depending on test scores, to rate any school.  Do businesses rate their employees and employers by yearly performance and give those scores to their customers and shareholders, to rate the business?

If more laws like the Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act are passed, we are just creating a new bureaucracy; without looking at how other countries do better in education.  Before we invest only into the charter school experiment, we should look elsewhere to see what works.  We need to get out of the industrial model of standardization by exams to make all children the same.  Instead, we should tailor education to children’s needs on many learning models, not just three; if we really do believe in individual freedom and choice.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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