‘Parent trigger’ bill added to House Finance sub’s kill list; Rep. DeBerry not happy

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill seeking to make it easier for parents to convert struggling public schools into charter schools failed in a House subcommittee on Tuesday even though its sponsor says it’s another tool to reform education in Tennessee.

The measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis died when it failed to receive a motion in the House Finance Subcommittee.

The so-called parent trigger legislation — which also failed last year — had advanced out of the House Education Committee earlier this month on a 9-4 vote, and the companion bill had been awaiting a vote in the full Senate.

Currently in Tennessee, there is a statute that would allow 60 percent of parents to petition for a change to be made at a school.

Under the failed proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 10 percent of failing schools believe a drastic change is needed, they could select from several “turnaround models,” including a conversion to a charter school or changing the administrators.

“This is something that we did as part of our education reform,” said DeBerry, who was visibly upset when he didn’t receive a motion, and walked briskly out of the committee room.

Tennessee has been lauded nationally for reforms that include tougher curriculum and stricter teacher evaluations.

DeBerry said his proposal gives parents a say-so at the table and another option to better educate their children.

“When we started education reform we said that we were going to do things differently and outside the box,” he said. “Parent trigger is one of those initiatives.”

House Speaker Beth Harwell said she’s surprised the legislation failed.

“I certainly understand when parents feel trapped in a school that’s failing,” said the Nashville Republican. “They should have the ability to ask for something different for their children.”

Note: Further, from Andrea Zelinski:
After a House committee yanked the life out of two of Rep. John DeBerry’s education bills, he snatched up his things, quietly stormed down the hallway to his office and slammed his heavy wooden door behind him.

The bang of the door and the crash of his things hitting the ground inside the small ground-level office of the calm yet emotional Memphis Democrat rang out in the hallway.

Moments before, no one on the 12-member Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee Tuesday would give DeBerry a motion to take up his bills. Beyond the procedural lack of the motion making an up-or-down vote on his bills impossible, members failing to offer a motion on a bill is one of the chief insults a committee can bestow upon a bill or its sponsor.

DeBerry finds himself politically straddling fences in the General Assembly. Last election cycle, he was the chief beneficiary of campaign contributions from education reform advocates that tend to find more allies on the Republican side of the aisle. That, and his support for education reforms like vouchers and school choice, put his political views fundamentally at odds with the vast majority of his fellow Democrats.

The lack of a motion meant the committee killed two of his bills in the hearing Tuesday afternoon. One would have allowed the school districts charged with turning around the state’s worst schools — which largely sit in Memphis — to recruit students outside their school zones. Another would have lowered the voting threshold needed for parents to turn around management or operators of their struggling schools. Both were controversial, although less so than other education bills up for consideration this year.