‘Parent Trigger’ Bill Joins Vouchers, Etc., in Push for Education Legislation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Legislation that would allow parents to decide the fate of a struggling school is among several education-related proposals lawmakers are likely to discuss during the 108th Tennessee General Assembly that convenes Tuesday.
Officials have made reforming education a top priority since Tennessee became one of two states to first receive federal Race to the Top funding about three years ago. Lawmakers expect to take up more proposals this year, including so-called parent trigger legislation, creation of school vouchers, reshaping online schools and boosting community colleges.
The parent trigger measure has drawn national attention since parents in California stepped in to turn around a failing school there and the state’s Supreme Court upheld their actions.
Brent Easley, state director for the Tennessee chapter of StudentsFirst, a national grassroots movement to reform school systems across the country, said a sponsor is being sought to introduce Tennessee legislation that’s similar to California’s proposal. (Note: StudentsFirst’s PAC made about $427,000 in donations to Tennessee campaigns last year, by the Commercial Appeal’s count.)
Under the proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 20 percent of failing schools believe that a drastic change is needed, they can then select from several “turnaround models.” For instance, they may want to convert it to a charter school, change the administrators or just close the school.

The parents in California chose a charter school.
“The main goal is to empower parents with tools to demand change for their children’s education,” Easley said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he wants to know a little more about the mechanics of the legislation.
“Is it just a simple majority of the parents who show up to that meeting that would vote, or is it a majority of the parents in the school?” he asked. “There would have to be a fair way to do that, where it wasn’t just at that point in time a certain group of people thought it was best to replace the school leadership.”
State Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Delores Gresham said she attended a conference in California where the parent trigger concept was discussed, and she liked what she heard.
“It certainly was … interesting,” said the Somerville Republican. “I think it’s a uniquely American dynamic. The people come forward, and they say, ‘This is what we want for our children.'”
In the case of school vouchers, a task force appointed by Haslam to study how to start a school voucher program submitted recommendations to the governor in November that ranged from accountability to the amount of the scholarship.
A school voucher program, which backers are calling the “opportunity scholarship program,” would use state and local education funds to allow students to transfer to better private or public schools. Haslam appointed the task force because he said the issue needed more study before any legislation is pursued.
Last month, Haslam told reporters that he has yet to decide if his administration will take the lead on a bill to create a school vouchers program.
“Legislation will be introduced,” Haslam said. “The decision will be whether it’s ours, or whether it’ll be that we just advocate a position once the bill is introduced.”
As for online schools, or virtual schools, state Rep. Mike Stewart said he plans to file legislation to ban them because he believes they’re ineffective and a drain on taxpayers’ wallets.
He cited the poor performance of the Tennessee Virtual Academy in Union County. The academy is operated by K12 Inc., the nation’s largest publicly traded online education company, under contract with the Union County Public Schools system.
State figures showed the academy fell into the bottom 11 percent of schools for student gains as measured under the state’s value-added assessment system. The cyber school scored a 1 on the 5-point scale.
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman called the academy’s performance “unacceptable.”
Since then, the head of the academy said it has taken steps to improve student performance. However, Stewart said he’s still not sold on the online concept.
“In addition to being bad programs, we’re vastly overpaying for them,” said the Nashville Democrat. “We’re basically paying over $5,000 a year for a home-schooling program. You can buy home-schooling programs on the free market for a $1,000. That’s not a good deal for Tennesseans.”
Another area under consideration includes creating more full scholarships for community colleges, which education experts say remain one of the most consistently affordable options for higher education.
Educator Irving Pressley McPhail has been a dean, president or chancellor at several community colleges. He cited a recent national study that shows in 2010-2011 there were 40,736 students in Tennessee that completed degrees at four-year institutions.
Of those, 18,410 had previously enrolled at a community college, or about 45 percent of those who got four-year degrees.
“In today’s world, given the economic realities, as well as … President (Barack) Obama’s conviction to significantly increase the number of persons in the United States who have completed college degrees, the role of the community college has become particularly significant,” said McPhail, who is currently president and CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.

2 thoughts on “‘Parent Trigger’ Bill Joins Vouchers, Etc., in Push for Education Legislation

  1. Eric H

    “You can buy home-schooling programs on the free market for a $1,000. That’s not a good deal for Tennesseans.”
    Well, since we are spending $11,000 per student in Shelby Co, what kind of a “drain on taxpayer’s wallets” is that?
    If $1,000 per student per year is reasonable, why are we averaging $8,400?

  2. Eric H

    Also note that once again (as always) the scores of these virtual charter students BEFORE they left the public system are not reported. I wonder why? Were they already in the bottom 11%? Maybe that is why their parents FREELY chose an alternative. Remember, they can also FREELY choose to return to the “free” public schools (and double our costs).
    The year before the students left, we spent an average of $8400 each per year. As virtual charter students, we spent about half that. How is that 50% decrease in spending a worse “drain on the taxpayer’s wallets”?
    If you won’t show the previous scores, you cannot make any claim.

Leave a Reply