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‘Parent trigger’ could speed school change

– Indiana parents could soon have a direct say in turning public schools into charter schools. A measure being pushed in the Indiana House would let them vote to turn public schools over to charter school operators.

The idea is part of a national wave that started in Los Angeles in 2009 and has been considered in statehouses nationwide over the last two years.

“It gives parents the option, if they are in a school that is not meeting the needs of their children, if they get 51 percent of the parents to decide they would like to change that school culture from that of a traditional public school to that of a charter,” said Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House education committee and is a co-author of the measure.

The proposal would also let parents petition the state school board to have the state take control of their school.

The “parent trigger” almost made it through the Indiana General Assembly last year as a part of a package of education overhauls that included the creation of the nation’s most expansive voucher program and an expansion of the groups that can approve new charter schools in Indiana.

Instead, last year lawmakers approved an abridged version of the measure that left the ultimate decision with school boards and limited it to schools that have underperformed for at least two years in a row. So supporters are trying again this year to pass a full “parent trigger.”

But Indiana’s largest teacher’s union says the idea leaves two key groups of people out of the decision: teachers and school administrators.

Teacher’s fought the measure last year in Indiana and were largely successful and will be fighting the proposal again this year, said Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.

“We think that it should be 51 percent of the parents and teachers and educators should have a say,” he said. “It shouldn’t be strictly a parents’ trigger.”

The “parent trigger” raises essentially the same battle that was fought last year in Indiana and is being fought nationwide, between unions and supporters of traditional public schools and charter school advocates.

Legislators last year approved creating the nation’s broadest private school voucher system, one that allows even middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools.

That was part of the sweeping education changes that GOP legislators and Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed during the 2011 session.

Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett drove last year’s education overhauls and is supporting the full “parent trigger:”

“This one gains our support because it empowers parents to begin the process of charter conversion (without local school board approval) and includes turnaround timeline acceleration,” Bennett spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said.

Texas and Mississippi, approved the “parent trigger” last year.