Parental involvement: An education ‘trigger’ for change

Legislators in seven states — Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah — are drafting legislation based on a school reform proposed by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.

The “Parent Trigger” aims to improve education for K-12 students by giving parents the power to “petition to have their public school shut down or converted to a charter school, or give parents vouchers to pay for tuition at a non-public school,” explains Bruno Behrend, director of the Center for School Reform at the Chicago-based free-market think tank.

Ben Boychuck, managing editor of School Reform News, has proposed that such a “Parent Trigger” be used to rescue the voucher program in Washington, D.C., which Heartland describes as “slated for extinction by President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress” despite its popularity with the very low-income families in whose interests Democrats routinely claim to act.

On Dec. 10, the leaders of D.C.’s school choice movement, former City Councilman Kevin P. Chavous and Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, said in a prepared statement:

“House and Senate appropriators this week ignored the wishes of D.C.’s mayor, D.C.’s public schools chancellor, a majority of D.C.’s city council, and more than 70 percent of D.C. residents and have mandated the slow death of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. This successful school voucher program — for D.C.’s poorest families — has allowed more than 3,300 children to attend the best schools they have ever known.”

Opponents, most vocally the teacher unions, claim destroying the program will “save” $50 million over five years — though voucher recipients received nowhere near the $24,000 per student per year which The Washington Post reports the district’s public schools now spend delivering one of the worst educational products in the country.

The wildly popular (though only with parents and kids) D.C. voucher program was initially sponsored by Republicans back in 2004. Nevada’s own Sen. John Ensign introduced an amendment to last month’s omnibus appropriations bill to extend the program, but Democrats voted it down, 50-39.

Whether a “Parent Trigger” can successfully bypass reactionary opposition to such reforms remains to be seen. But here in Nevada, where attempts to introduce more competition and school choice lag far behind the nation, state lawmakers and the governor should keep a close eye on the model bill Heartland staffers are now drafting with the Education Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Those in charge of our public schools routinely stress the importance of “parental involvement.” Surely, then, giving concerned parents a “trigger” to initiate change should be something they can support.

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