California Law Gives Powers to Parents, Troubles Teachers

Filed under: In The News


California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an education reform bill Jan. 7 that has the state's teachers peering out their windows looking for villagers with torches and pitchforks.

Teachers are worried because the new "parent trigger" law gives parents the power to demand expensive overhauls if at least half of them sign a petition declaring a school inadequate.

Leaders of the California Teachers Association call the law a "lynch mob provision," reports the San Bernadino Sun. Many parents and legislators -- as well as the Governator himself -- call California Senate Bill 4 an important restoration of parental control.

"For too many years, too many children were trapped in low-performing schools and couldn't do anything about it," Schwarzenegger said the day he signed the bill. "As a matter of fact, the exit doors might as well have been chained.

"Now, because of SB 4, parents have the right to free their children from those under-performing schools -- and that without the principal's permission," he added.
That last comment got a chuckle out of the crowd gathered for the signing at Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles.

The teachers' union, however, is not smiling.

Union leaders, on their Web site, say the law will "create chaos in school districts and drain resources from local classrooms and punish lower-performing schools without providing needed assistance."

The law requires at least half of the parents in a school to sign a petition to declare the school inadequate. If that happens, parents can call for the building to be shut down or turned into a charter school. They also can ask for the principal and up to half the staff to be fired.

When signing the bill, Schwarzenegger said the new law will help California compete for $700 million in federal education funds.

The governor called a special session of the Legislature in August after President Barack Obama pledged federal aid to states to help reform education.

"We were not able to compete because we did not have the laws in place," he said Jan. 7. "So this is why I called a special session and asked Democrats and Republicans to work together and to change that."

Despite support for the bill in the Legislature, some lawmakers see the teachers' point of view.

"In one sense, it is wonderful for parents to have more oversight of our schools," Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, tells the Sun. "But in another sense, if (parents) successfully petition to potentially close a school that is failing, that closure will have a devastating financial impact to our state."

Carter tells the Sun the cost of overhauling a school could be as high as $500,000 per school.

To control costs, the law allows only 75 schools statewide to be overhauled by parent petition.

What really bugs teachers, union leaders tell the paper, is the insinuation that educators don't care and aren't doing their best -- to the point that they need a swift kick in the rear.

After signing the bill, Schwarzenegger said he always wants to work with teachers and be sensitive to their concerns.

However, he added, "every time when you talk about education, we always have to focus on one thing: what's best for the children, not what's best for the grownups."

Related: School Progress Report

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