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What real ‘parent empowerment’ looks like

Imagine if your child’s assigned elementary school had puddles of urine in the bathroom, mouse droppings in the cafeteria and clogged water fountains. Now imagine if the principal rejected your complaints.

Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles-based group at the center of the “parent trigger” or “parent empowerment” movement, reports that these were the deplorable conditions at Washington Elementary School in Lynwood, Calif., when parents organized to help turn things around. The parents put pressure on school officials and formed a committee to help develop solutions.

This idea — empowering parents to take ownership of reforms long overdue at a child’s school — is at the heart of one of the most innovative education reform programs proposed in recent years. Parent empowerment laws let parents vote to convert a chronically failing school to a charter school or even close its doors entirely. Laws have passed in California, Texas and Mississippi, and lawmakers in at least 14 other states are considering bills.

The concept is simple: If at least 50 percent of parents vote for reform at a failing traditional public school, they can convert the school to a charter, change school leadership or enact other reforms. Parents can give their children better opportunities immediately, without having to wait for district officials or school boards to act.

In December 2010, more than

61 percent of parents at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, Calif., signed a petition to reform the school. Stiff union opposition and legal complications nearly ended all hope for McKinley students, but the surge in parent demand helped propel a charter school to open nearby.

Arizona parents should have the same freedom to call for change and, if necessary, close chronically failing schools. Putting a law like this into place won’t be a cakewalk. School district and teachers’ union officials will fight it tooth and nail. But the lawmakers can learn from the experiences at Washington and McKinley elementary schools in California and do what’s right for children.

— Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

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