'Parent-Trigger Law' Important


Rep. Cecil Brown (D - Jackson)

In their push for a more expansive charter-school law in Mississippi, charter proponents have attempted to repeal our existing charter-school law. Their explanation is that the law is too weak. In fact, while it is not a comprehensive charter law, the Mississippi law is part of a nationwide movement to give parents of kids in failing schools an opportunity to take over control of their local schools and to give their kids a chance at educational success.

This provision was adopted in the 2010 legislative session by an overwhelming vote of members of both political parties and signed by Gov. Haley Barbour. Known nationally as a "parent trigger law," Mississippi's law allows parents of children in chronically under-performing schools to take over governance of the school.

By a vote of parents of more than 50 percent of the kids in the school, the parents can elect a "local management board" for their school, remove some or all of the school's teachers and administrators, develop their own curriculum and schedules and, in essence, convert the school to a charter school.

The school would remain a public school and would receive the same local, state and federal support it received before the conversion, but would no longer be governed by the local school board.

Under federal law, the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act would continue to apply, but administration of the school would be left up to the school's duly-elected local-management board. Day to day operations could be contracted out to a charter-school operator such as KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), or the board could hire its own personnel.

The law applies to schools that are in the lowest three categories of performance for three consecutive years, and there is no limit on the number of schools that can convert. The three-year measurement period has now passed, so the current 2012-2013 school year is the first year that the conversion will be available.

Based on the most recent available data, dozens of Mississippi schools will be eligible to be converted to charter schools under the parent-trigger law.

Already, a number of parent groups have contacted the State Department of Education to inquire about the process. Unfortunately, the uncertainty caused by the proposed repeal of the legislation has caused these groups and the department to slow down the application process.

Mississippi was the second state in the country to adopt a parent-trigger law. As of June 2012, more than 20 states have considered parent-trigger legislation, and seven of them have enacted some version of the law. Among the states with new parent-trigger laws are Louisiana, Texas, Indiana and Ohio, all with Republican governors. Obviously, we were at the forefront of this innovative wave of reform.

I believe Mississippi will adopt a new charter-school law, and I support reasonable charter legislation. But the existing parent-trigger law will not conflict with that legislation and should be preserved. There is no reason to repeal this progressive legislation while other states across the country are adopting similar provisions.

Rep. Cecil Brown, a Democrat, represents Jackson in the Mississippi Legislature.


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