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Plug pulled on parent trigger bill

The three Democrats on the Senate State Affairs Committee outvoted their two GOP colleagues Wednesday afternoon and killed House Bill 12-1149, this year’s mild version of a parent trigger proposal.

The vote didn’t come as a major surprise, given that State Affairs is known as the “kill committee” where leadership sends bills it doesn’t like.

The bill originated in the House with Republican Rep. Don Beezley of Broomfield, and in the Senate it was carried by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and a leading figure on education reform legislation.

Given all the changes to the measure in the House, Johnston said, “This bill is not, for better or worse, a parent trigger. It’s a parent flare,” a warning sign of a school in trouble.

“People have a right to petition government for redress of their grievances. I never argued that this bill was going to fix K-12 education,” Johnston said, instead calling it “an opportunity for people in extreme circumstances to put up a flare.”

As originally introduced, HB 12-1149 would have allowed parents with students enrolled in a school that has operated under a priority improvement or turnaround plan for two consecutive years to submit a petition to the State Board of Education requesting the board direct the school be reconfigured immediately. A petition would have required signatures from 50 percent of parents.

Key amendments approved by the House required that if SBE decided action on a school was necessary, the matter would go back to the local school board for implementation. House changes also raised the signature requirement to 60 percent after two years but allowed a 50 percent threshold for petitions submitted after the third year of low performance. Amendments also specified factors the State Board was to consider and tightened up the petition process. (Read the bill as passed by the House.)

Parent role, local control debated

Witnesses in support of the bill said it was necessary to give parents a stronger voice in school improvement and to add a sense of urgency to school transformation. Representatives of Stand for Children, Metro Organizations for People and the Colorado League of Charter Schools spoke in favor of the bill.

“As parents we want, deserve and demand a seat at the table,” said Midian Holmes, chair of Stand for Children’s Denver chapter and a parent of three children in Far Northeast Denver.

Nola Miguel, an organizer for MOP and a northeast Denver parent, argued, “Just the existence of this type of law empowers parents” even if they never went as far as filing a petition.

Opponents of the bill argued that it wasn’t necessary because school boards are the proper forum for such parent concerns and that the measure could disrupt improvement efforts under the state’s current accountability and school rating system. (The state system gives a school five years to move out of turnaround and priority improvement status before the State Board acts on conversion of a failing school. That system is in its third year.)

Opponents included representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Executives and the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado.

“It’s a complicated endeavor to turn around a struggling school,” said Bruce Caughey, executive director of the school executives group. He said the state’s five-year system is “just getting its wings under it” and should be given time to work.

Jennie Peek-Dunstone, representing AFT Colorado, agreed, saying the bill “doesn’t allow time for the turnaround process to work.”

As the hearing neared its end, committee chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, detailed his skepticism, saying to Johnston, “I think you really get ahead of yourself on this one. … I just don’t think it’s the state board’s function.”

Heath and Democratic Sens. Bob Bacon of Fort Collins and Betty Boyd of Lakewood voted to postpone the bill indefinitely. GOP Sens. Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Tim Neville of Littleton supported the bill.