Stop the “Parent Trigger” Law (Society’s Slideshow)

By Dave Palmer
It is with great dismay that I am writing again regarding proposed reforms to the Michigan Public Education System so soon after my latest diatribe regarding HB 6004 and SB 1358.
Now, the Senate is taking up Senate Bill 620, also referred to as the “Parent Trigger Law.”

Specifically, the bill gives certain parents and teachers the ability to petition the local school board to determine the district’s intervention model. (Closure, Restart, Transformation and Turnaround).  If a valid petition recommends a restart model, the parents may apply to convert the school to a charter. The new substitute for this bill still requires the operating district to lease the building to the new charter authorizer for $1, which is unconstitutional.  Therefore,  SB 620 has nothing to do with reforming education and everything to do with attempting to convert public assets in to private assets.

 My biggest question is: Where, oh where are the rest of the operating costs for that building going to come from? If the home school district is required to incur all liability and the rest of the operating costs, the money will be coming out of taxpayer dollars that were intended to finance public schools. That means that both public and charter schools will be running on an extremely tight budget.  In fact, I work at an alternative school that runs on such a tight budget that if this bill were allowed to pass and a few parents decided to trigger a charter within the district, I could be laid of due to lack of funding to pay my salary. Spreading educational dollars around in this manner is not the solution.

 Some of the other problems with SB 620 include:

  • There are no election standards for petition signers who are effectively voting for a school takeover. This means they do not have to be registered voters, citizens, or legal residents. Any other petition citizens want to submit to the government must be signed by registered electors, giving obvious favoritism to charter schools in the petition process.
  • SB 620 allows for the unconstitutional taking of public property by a small faction without a vote of the people or even majority support. The last time I checked, democracy was supposed to represent what a majority of people want.
  • There are no quality requirements to ensure that the authorizing body or management organization for a Conversion School has any experience or success in running a school. Both these charters and the EAA would be exempt from state testing that is required for public schools. Therefore, there would be no metric to prove that these schools operate better than public schools.

All of these points run completely contrary to democracy and the democratic process. In fact, based on what I learned in school, these are harbingers of fascism, and have no place in the United States of America.

Instead of channeling fascist governments for their final solution to the public education problem, perhaps Michigan Legislature should consider these following reforms:

1. A serious infrastructure-level investment in public schools paid for by bringing back the Michigan Business Tax as a flat 2% rate with zero loopholes.

2. Allow teachers to evaluate parents based on: a) How much time their child spends at home on homework; b) How many parent-teacher conferences and school improvement events they attend; c) whether or not they participate in a Parent-Teacher Association; d) Their child’s behavior in school and in the classroom; e) Their child’s overall grade. Then, that evaluation could be weighed against administrator evaluations of the teacher and the performance of students on MEAP and other state-required assessments.

3. Allow teachers to evaluate administrators based on: a) Whether or not there are sufficient supplies provided to facilitate the school’s educational mission; b) Whether or not the current school technology is up to date; c) Whether school policy is conducive or prohibitive of educational innovation d) Whether or not appropriate accommodations and support staff are in place for main-streamed special needs students and special education students; e) Whether or not there are enrichment programs for gifted students. Again, weigh those evaluations against teacher performance and student performance on state-required tests.

4. Assign each first year teacher a veteran mentor (15+ years, evaluated at highest level of proficiency for a minimum of five years in a row.) The new teacher would teach for half a day, while the veteran observes. The veteran mentor would then provide constructive criticism to the new teacher on deficiencies in their practice, then demonstrates what they mean in the other half of the day. Both teachers would be the teacher of record in their respective classes. If there is a concern about compensation, the veteran teacher could be allowed to buy 1 year of retirement for every year they are a veteran mentor with no real cost from their paycheck. This method could also be used for remediation of a teacher who was evaluated as not proficient.

Please write, call, e-mail, or use all three mediums to encourage your Michigan Senator to oppose SB 620.  A lame duck session in the House is no time to attempt to push through such broad, sweeping changes to our public education system. It would be much more prudent to engage in a full investigation of all the options for education reform in the next legislative session.