Parents and teachers in Georgia are a step closer to having more authority over who runs their children’s low-performing schools and how those campuses are structured.
The Georgia House of Representatives on Tuesday passed House Bill 123, more widely known as the Parent Trigger Law, which would make it easier for parent and teacher groups to petition local school boards to turn a traditional school into a charter school.
Now headed to the Senate for a vote, the law would also allow those parents and teachers to petition to fire a principal and replace instructional staffers.
School boards would have to accept the petition unless they can prove it is logistically impossible, would be illegal under employment law, is not in the public interest or one of other significant barriers, according to the bill. If petitioners make up more than 60 percent of a school’s parents or instructional staffers, boards can reject it only with a two-thirds vote.
Proponents say the bill is another tool for the school choice movement to give parents more say in education, while critics fear it could be abused and disrupt current reform efforts. Locally, reactions vary not only about the law’s merit but also about how much it will affect schools in Richmond and Columbia counties.
Carol Rountree, the director of student services, said that over the years there has been little interest from outside groups to establish charter schools in Richmond County.
She said schools do not have to convert in order for reform to take place. Richmond County is investing in more teacher training and scheduling reinforcement time during school days to help students with problem subjects. If parents want more involvement, the opportunity is already there without the law, she said.
“It’s not that improvement isn’t possible, but improvement takes a great deal of resources, both human and fiscal,” Rountree said. “When you attempt to do something of this magnitude, you don’t realize how many steps are involved to do something dramatically different than what we’re already doing.”
Monique Braswell, the president of the Richmond County Council of PTAs, said she thinks passing the law would be a shame and could “destroy the educational system as we know it.”
Speaking as a parent, though, she said that might not be a bad thing.
“We do have some schools that have horrible leadership,” Braswell said. “The leadership is making decisions that are harmful to our children and nobody is doing anything about it.”
She said principals allowing ineffective teachers to remain at schools and administrators hiring based on relationships or cronyism are among the problems.
Though change is needed, Braswell said, there is a fear that uninformed parents could abuse the law and enact changes based on hard feelings or personal vendettas.
About seven states have enacted forms of a parent trigger law since 2010, but few parents or teacher groups across the country have used the power to enact significant change.
Columbia County Deputy Superintendent Sandra Carraway said she hopes parents feel empowered enough to approach their principal or school board members if dissatisfied with their children’s school. Like Richmond County, she said, few applications have come through in the past decade for charter schools.
Carraway said she hopes that’s because parents are taking advantage of outreach options already available.
“We already have in place strong parental involvement through school councils and (parent teacher organizations),” she said. “I would hate to think that any school would have something like put in place for parents to have to petition to turn it into a charter school.”