Parent Empowerment Act of Buffalo.

also known as The Parent Trigger Law
The Parent Trigger bill first passed in California in January 2010. The proposed bill for Buffalo follows closely to the original bill from California and includes recommendations from CA as well. I. Why Parent Empowerment is essential for improving the Buffalo Public School System: The Parent Empowerment Act of Buffalo will empower parents to improve their children’s low-performing schools with the urgency that the situation demands. The Parent Trigger will be a new right for every parent in Buffalo that gives parents – for the first time ever – the legal power to transform their school through community organizing. The Parent Trigger is a transformative new way of reforming education—by giving real, legal power to parents to fight for their own children’s education. Buffalo Public Schools are in crisis: about 50% of our students graduate, and of that 50% only 15% are college-ready. Further, only 25% of black males graduate from the BPS in a majority African American school system. Buffalo spends $23,000 per student and the results are staggering; our children aren’t afforded the opportunity of an excellent education system. The livelihood of the city depends on a high-quality education system that will put the needs of students first. Unfortunately, the BPS is operated by adults primarily to protect the interests of those adults. If this were not true, our school system would be thriving. The Buffalo Public Schools system educates nearly 33,000 students in 59 separate schools. 13 of the 59 schools are currently on the State’s “Persistently Lowest Achieving” list, 33 are in good standing, and 13 schools are struggling and will likely be placed on the PLA list in the near future The District Parent Coordinating Council has expressed concern with the District’s disregard for parent input, highlighted in the past few months when the Buffalo Board of Education and the district administration have passed and implemented policies that will impact their children without asking the DPCC for their suggestions or support. By empowering parents to have a stronger voice in reforming our school system, the system will operate in the best interest of children and not adults. Education should be focused on the needs of children instead of those of the adults. As parents are the only people in the system who puts the needs of children first, without conflict of interest, it stands that they should have the ability to make tough decisions that will take into account the very best outcomes for our students. The parent trigger law gives power back to the parents so as to ensure that they have opportunity to effect change on behalf of their children

II. The Parent Process: The Parent Trigger applies to every school in the city of Buffalo that is not in “good-standing” with the State. If the parents at one of these low-performing schools want to transform it, they must first pick 1 of the 4 Federal Turnaround models and then collect signatures from at least 50% of the represented parents at their school. Each school transformation option, with the exception of the school closure, will require that the current student body is offered continued enrollment at the transformed school. *For schools that are already identified by the state as PLA, the parents at that school can organize behind their preferred turnaround model and the district must abide by that plan, unless the school district has already submitted a plan to the state for a federal School Improvement Grant. School Transformation Options: President Obama has laid out several ways for a low-performing school to be transformed into an excellent school. The Parent Trigger empowers parents to choose any one of these four options. They are: 1) Charter conversion: If there is a nearby charter school that is outperforming the low-performing school, parents can bring in that charter school to transform the failing school. That charter school, not the school district, will then run the school but it will continue to serve all the same students currently attending the school. Full operational control of the school will be

given to a charter operator authorized by either the local school district or the state, or partial control given to a nonprofit Education Management Organization. *If the parent petition does not specify a charter operator for the charter conversion, the district should conduct an RFP process to find the best charter for the school takeover. If the district fails to do this in 30 days of validating the petition, the state must conduct an RFP process to find the best charter for the school takeover. 2) Turnaround: If parents want huge changes but want to leave the school district in charge, this option should be petitioned. A turnaround forces the school district to hit the reset button by replacing at least half of the teaching staff and the school leadership and giving the new principal more control over staffing and budget. 3) Transformation: This is the least significant change. It forces the school district to find a new principal, gives more autonomy to the principal and implements a broad school improvement plan. 4) Closure: This option would close the school altogether and send the students to other, higher-performing schools nearby. Bargaining power: If parents want smaller changes at their child’s school but the school district will not listen to them, they can organize and use their signatures as bargaining power. Perhaps the most important power provided by the Parent Trigger is the ability for parents to use their signatures as bargaining power with the district. There are certainly many instances where parents desire important changes that do not necessarily fit into the four school transformation options specifically outlined in The Parent Empowerment Act; and these parent demands are, in most instances, completely ignored by the school district. In this very likely scenario, parents can organize around one of the outlined options without the explicit intent of actually implementing a turnaround strategy. Rather, the organized parents can use their signatures as a credible threat to force the district to listen to and meet their demands for improving their child’s school. This bargaining power holds the most transformative potential impact of the Parent Trigger: by giving parents—no matter what their socioeconomic status —a real seat at the decision making table of public education, we can transform the way the school district approaches systemically reforming education by emphasizing that all decisions be made in the best interest of children, rather than adults. The Petition Process: 1) Formal participation in the petition process is limited to parents with children currently enrolled in the identified lowperforming school, or the feeder school(s) to the identified low-performing school. Signatures are required from parents representing 50% or more of the children enrolled in the school or the immediate feeder program. • Although all community members have a stake in public education, parents are in the unique position of having the most at stake with the least amount of influence. In keeping with the scope of the Parent Trigger to fundamentally shift the balance of power in the public school system back to parents, parents should not need permission from any other interest groups or stakeholders in order to transform their children’s failing schools. As a logistical concern, it would be impossible to determine the accuracy of parent signatures necessary to meet the 50% threshold when signers are outside of the public school enrollment of the identified school. • Allow parents at feeder schools to participate so that they do not have to send their child to a failing school and then start organizing; parents from a feeder school will be empowered to organize alongside parents currently at that school and trigger change through petitions representing 50% of the aggregate parents in the immediate feeder program. The number of enrolled students will serve as the denominator for meeting the 50% threshold of parents: Signatures are required from parents representing 50% or more of the children enrolled in the school or immediate feeder programs” enforced by a one signature per child rule.

2) Parents will organize through a petition, not a vote. Similar to the Federal Employee Free Choice Act—a formal, public vote gives power to management and takes it away from those trying to organize.

3) Specific measures will be established to verify parent signatures, and it will require each school to retain current records of the names of each student and his or her guardian(s). There will also be a strict prohibition of harassment or lying to parents about a school’s record of contacts in order to dissuade parents from organizing.

III. The District and State Process: Implementing Regulations 1) Excelsior List: The district and the identified school will be required to provide contact information for all parents at the school after 30% of parents have signed the petition (as clarified above, parents representing 30% of the student body must sign the petition in order to obtain the complete contact list of parents for that school). • Unlike many high-performing and more affluent public schools, schools in low-income communities face unique obstacles that will result in the inability to contact a sufficient number of parents at a school. In union organizing, there are protections against this obstacle through the “Excelsior List”—once a labor union shows strong interest amongst workers to organize (30% of the workers), they have a right to obtain the list and contact information for all other workers. This same rule will apply for each school in the district to empower parents to successfully organize. 2) The school district will be required to give parents notice of their rights under the Parent Empowerment Act. The district will be required to send notice and information about the Parent Empowerment Act to all parents at eligible schools within 10 business days of a school’s identification as low-performing or not in “good-standing.” • Parents can only use a law if they know about it, and they must be informed of their rights to transform their lowperforming school 3) Harassment or misuse of public funds focused on misinforming or threatening parents to dissuade them from organizing to transform their school is strictly prohibited. The City Council will receive and determine the validity of complaints from parents about harassment received from the district or their school, and valid complaints will be posted publicly.

After the Trigger After 50% of the parents at an identified school have signed a petition to use one of the four transformation models to turnaround their school, the District must comply with their request under the following timeline: 1) Within 30 days of receiving the petition, the district must determine the validity of the petition and publicly acknowledge receipt of the petition to turnaround the identified school. a. If the district “challenges” the petitions and determines that less than 50% of the signatures are valid, the parents of the identified school can appeal the challenge and/or will be granted 30 days to verify petitions and collect additional signatures. b. If the district determines that the petitions are valid, but cannot implement the identified transformation, the State Board of Regents must hear the case and determine the viability of the district to implement the identified transformation. If the State Board of Regents determines that the district cannot implement the identified transformation, the parents can appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Within 30 days of determining the petition valid, the District must propose to the school board and the parent-body the proposal to implement the transformation option. Within 60 days of receiving the petition, the District and the parents must hold a public meeting at the identified school unveiling the turnaround plans for that school. After comments from this hearing are taken into consideration, the District and the parents have 10 business days to complete a final strategic plan to turnaround the school.

   

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