After reading about how ALEC could enter the education debate in Rhode Island, I read this headline with particular interest: “U.S. mayors back parents seizing control of schools.”
Hundreds of mayors from across the United States this weekend called for new laws letting parents seize control of low-performing public schools and fire the teachers, oust the administrators or turn the schools over to private management.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday unanimously endorsed “parent trigger” laws aimed at bypassing elected school boards and giving parents at the worst public schools the opportunity to band together and force immediate change.
Mayor Taveras, it’s worth noting, is part of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and a member of the Jobs, Education and the Workforce committee.
Parent trigger laws, popular with education budget hawks, allow parents to wrest control of public school from elected officials and either shut them down or outsource operations to a private charter school company. Lately, such laws have caused controversy in California and there’s a new movie about the concept, in the same vain as Waiting for Superman coming out in the near future. The parent trigger act is piece of ALEC model legislation (cached ALEC doc). RI Future correspondent Aaron Regunberg wrote about parent trigger laws this weekend for GoLocalProv.
Giving parents so much control over a school’s destiny is, frankly, nuts, as Diane Ravitch put it. Parents, of course, don’t own the public schools and more than picnickers own Central Park .
A parent trigger — a phrase that is inherently menacing — enables 51 percent of parents in any school to close the school or hand it over to private management. This is inherently a terrible idea. Why should 51 percent of people using a public service have the power to privatize it? Should 51 percent of the people in Central Park on any given day have the power to transfer it to private management? Should 51 percent of those riding a public bus have the power to privatize it?
Public schools don’t belong to the 51 percent of the parents whose children are enrolled this year. They don’t belong to the teachers or administrators. They belong to the public. They were built with public funds. The only legitimate reason to close a neighborhood public school is under-enrollment. If a school is struggling, it needs help from district leaders, not a closure notice.
Let’s hope this idea receives the reception in Rhode Island it deserves.