A Better Trigger for Parents on Local Control of Schools

Little Rock  I’m skeptical of many of these so-called public school “reform” efforts because too many seem to really be privatization schemes in disguise or elite stalking horses for charter school operators.  Despite numerous studies finding that teachers are the key that unlocks almost all of the educational doors for children, most of these efforts are also anti-teacher and raging maniacs when it comes to how quickly they foam at the mouth about unions. 

I had some hopes for Stand for Children, but watching the role they played in Louisiana recently and their scandalous mischief in Chicago earlier, lead me to believe that they have increasingly gone over to the dark side.   Conversations with the Parent Revolution people over the last six months made me hopeful with reservations, because despite the fact that they seemed better on unions, unions were still opposing them fiercely, and too many of the wrong people were seizing on their “parent trigger” propositions in various states to subvert local control and parent participation into charter schemes and loss of public control.

Recent conversations in New Orleans a week or so ago and on-the-air at KABF  with Pat DeTemple, senior strategist for the California-based Parent Revolution, are forcing me to re-evaluate the way the parent trigger might work in the right ways to create real local power and voice for parents in forcing all parties to bring their best game to educate their children.   Much of this has to do with an interesting situation in one Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) where parents seemed to have used the trigger masterfully.  51% of the parents must sign a petition demanding that the school be reorganized for better educational performance with various options that might include changing the principal, bringing in charter, and so forth.  In this instance the parents put out a request for proposals to see who would step up to their mark.  More than a half-dozen charters applied, but so did the LA School District.  The parents negotiating committee ended up looking at the two bids outstanding, one from a charter that was already on campus in 5th grade and one that was from the District itself, which wanted to prove that it could make the school work.  The parents told both of them to come back with one joint proposal, and damned if they didn’t, and it was a great one.  The District promised that it would add an early childhood program and both parties agreed to enrich the program so that the higher 5th grade standards would be maintained and achieved by more students.   This new program goes live this coming fall, so it will be worth watching.

Another hopeful sign is a bill moving through the Louisiana legislature that would allow the parent trigger to be used to bring schools seized by the state back under democratic local control.  The bill has made it through the House and is now moving through the Senate without much opposition. 

What all this says to me is that situations like these which allow a real voice and a legitimately locally driven solution could be important and powerful instruments of community control.  When the trigger can only be pulled in one direction, usually to the charters, it is little more than part of a circular firing squad, so why wouldn’t everyone oppose this, but if the legislation can allow full and robust options, real parent power, then maybe a “parent revolution” could make public schools work around the country.

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Economy and Growing Senior Populations Factor into Decreased State Higher Ed Funding

New Orleans   For many of the blamers and “bootstrappers” who like to lay the growing income and inequality divide on the poor themselves rather than federal and state tax and budget policy, the solution is invariably, “why don’t they go to school.”  The answer is increasingly that crippled public schools are leaving lower income students unprepared and rising cost of public universities as well as outlandish costs of private colleges are increasing the divide and making the walls permanent.  All of which made a column in The Advocate by Koran Addo on the “dilemma” in higher education funding in Louisiana send me to the original study by Demos, the well known public policy institute, called “College Funding in Context.”

Nothing they had to say about Louisiana was surprising or encouraging, but as interestingly were some of the findings that emerged looking widely at the way funding is determined.  The common theme that was unavoidable was that the economy itself has strapped funding.  Louisiana has lost more than $25,000,000 over four years, but we’re not alone.  Over and over, states have been driven to raise costs and reduce support to higher education.  If this is the lifeline for low-and-moderate income families, then someone on the mother ship is pulling up the rope before folks can get out of the deep water.

To observations jumped up at me in a more than usually depressing manner because it augured so poorly for the future.   In one case Demos found that aging population in the states is bad news for the young:

“…for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of a state’s population that is 65 or older, there is an almost 7 percent reduction in FTE state appropriations for higher education.”

In the other instance Demos found that

“…for every 10 percentage point increase in presidential voter participation over the past 20 years, there is a 1.5 percent decrease in FTE state appropriations.”

            Of course older citizens also vote more than younger, and wealthier citizens vote more than poor citizens, which makes it look like nothing but bad news for anyone who wants to pretend that education is the answer.  It’s not the answer, because it seems that it is answering the wrong question.  In the kindest case indifference and multiple recessions are forcing older citizens to look after themselves.  In a less charitable case the big “me” means to heck with the rest of your neighbors.

Either way, if the question is, “how do we reduce inequality,” education is less and less the answer as it gets pushed farther and farther away from the grasp of the less affluent.

Meritocracy means nothing next to money.

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