NEWS: Pa. Senate Leaves Out Parent-Trigger Plan
Posted on Tuesday November 01, 2011 | Pennsylvania
From The Morning Call:
A landmark school reform bill that cleared the state Senate last week reflects much of what was included in Gov. Tom Corbett's agenda of taxpayer-funded vouchers, fixes to the state's charter school law and expansion of a popular school tax credit program for businesses.
But the bill was also notable for what it didn't include: namely, an administration-sought change to charter school law that would make it easier for parents to take troubled public schools and turn them into charters.
The so-called "parent trigger," already in place in four states, wasn't in the legislation the Senate approved after a lengthy debate last Wednesday. Politics got in the way of that, those familiar with the matter said.
But Tim Eller, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, says the administration is still holding out hope for the change, which in general would allow 51 percent of parents in a troubled school to petition to convert it into a charter school. Under current law, 50 percent of parents and 50 percent of teachers have to petition for the conversion.
"We support the concept and look forward to continued discussions with the Legislature on the bill," Eller wrote in an email last week.
In a separate email, Corbett spokeswoman Janet Kelley said the administration does expect "that provisions will be added to the education reform bill that passed the Senate."
"We fully intend to continue working with members of the House of Representatives as discussions continue about implementing a strong education reform package," Kelley said.
Two bills, one sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia , that includes the trigger language are already under consideration in the upper chamber. Williams, who sits on the education panel, briefly ran for governor last year on a school-choice platform and remains a vocal reform proponent.
Piccola's legislation would allow 51 percent of parents in a "persistently lowest achieving" school—based on test scores—to petition their local school board to convert the school into a charter school, close it outright and reassign students or to bring in a private manager to run the school.
Once the parent petition is filed, the school board would be "compelled to act in a timely fashion or else face penalties from the Department of Education," Piccola's office said.
Williams' bill would also allow 51 percent of parents to petition to have a "persistently lowest achieving school" for three years converted into a charter school. Under Williams' bill, the school would have to be in what's known as "corrective action," as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind law, for another year.
Like Piccola's bill, Williams' legislation allows parents to petition to have the school shut down or to even have a principal and a majority of the teaching staff replaced.