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Learning Curve

  • An F for transparency
    “Look at this shiny thing over here!” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, Oct. 14, 2014.
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Parent trigger: Taking aim at Indiana schools

Indiana Republicans' attack on public education continues this week with the latest incarnation of the "parent trigger law." Former Tony Bennett aide Todd Huston, now a legislator, is sponsor of House Bill 1358, which would allow the parents of just 51 percent of the students attending a school to petition the State Board of Education for takeover. They could call for the school to be operated by an outside organization. Any school earning a D or F on the state's grading formula for two consecutive years would be eligible. The bill is on the House Education Committee agenda for an 8:30 a.m. hearing tomorrow in Room 156C at the Statehouse.

The bill is not parent-driven, of course. Parent trigger laws are a tool of corporate reformers, generously supported by the Wal-mart heirs and other anti-union forces.

Last year's "Won't Back Down" was the Hollywood version of a parent-trigger story. Conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz bankrolled the production through his Walden Media enterprise. The same outfit is responsible for "Waiting for Superman." In reality, parent trigger laws haven't improved any schools.

The laws are built on a terribly flawed premise: That a school belongs to the parents whose children currently attend there.

Public schools belong to the public – the taxpayers who created them, built them, maintain them and provide for their operation. It's a dangerous precedent to confer control of a school to parents currently involved. Imagine the tumultuous effect on education if key decisions were left to the whims of an ever-changing group of parents.

What's even more despicable is that the schools affected inevitably serve low-income families, with poor parents used as pawns in corporate takeovers.

The well-respected National PTA is not a supporter of parent-trigger laws. It endorses a shared governance policy, in which parents have a voice, along with other stakeholders. In Florida, the state PTA is credited with helping defeat a similar bill last year. The national PTA organization will bestow its 2013 PTA Outstanding State Advocacy Award on the state group during its annual conference next month.

Although it has some strong local chapters, the Indiana PTA has been embarrassingly absent from the discussion of destructive policies pushed on the state in recent years.

HB 1358 actually repeals Indiana's parent trigger law and replaces it with one that it is easier to use – sort of like removing the safety lock from a weapon. Apparently, supporters are not happy that the law has never been used. Their impatience with tearing down traditional public schools is almost palpable, but understandable. Bennett's defeat last November demonstrated that Hoosiers don't want the brand of reform they are selling. With super-majorities in the House and Senate, however, and an electorate that already seems to have lost interest, Huston and others can continue to tear down Indiana's public schools.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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