Parent trigger charter schools bill zooms through House panel

A parent trigger charter schools bill zipped through the House Education Committee on Tuesday, boosting the chances that, for the second year in a row, the Georgia Legislature will pass major legislation pushing charter schools.

“This bill is called an empowerment act, and that’s what it would do,” said House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, the Atlanta Republican who sponsored the bill.

The parent trigger would allow a majority of a traditional public school’s households or a majority of teachers and instructional staff at that school to demand that the school board consider their petition to change the school into a charter school.

But opponents of the measure, House Bill 123, have said that, like last year’s legislation that allowed voters to change the Georgia Constitution to clarify the state’s power to create charter schools, the parent trigger is a bad idea that won’t automatically result in better education options.

“Coming up with more gimmicks to create more charter schools won’t solve the problem,” said Rep. Brian Thomas, D-Lilburn.

HB 123 was approved by a committee vote of 15-3. In addition to having the support of Lindsey — the vote-wrangler for the majority party in the House — the bill also has the backing of Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton.

HB 123 now moves on to the Rules Committee, where it’s likely to receive a prompt date for consideration by the full House.

Under the measure, if 60 percent of the households or 60 percent of the teachers and instructional staff petition for a charter school, the school board would have to agree unless two-thirds of the board votes to oppose the petition.

A majority of teachers or student households at low-performing schools could also petition for one of a variety of turnaround models, some of which call for the removal of top administrators such as principals or assistant principals. The state Department of Education would determine which schools are low-performing.

While HB 123 zoomed through committee, it was amended in ways that raise questions legislators will sort through as the bill moves forward.

Lindsey’s original version gave teachers the right to use a secret ballot in calling for a turnaround model that would result in the firing of administrators. Half the teachers and instructional staff would have to vote at a special meeting, and a majority of those voting could produce a recommendation their school board would have to consider.

An amendment to the bill expanded the secret ballot option to parents, but it’s not clear whether half of a school’s households would have to be represented.

Those following the bill also raised questions about how petitioners could determine how many households are attached to a particular school. Federal privacy laws prohibit schools from giving out personal information about individual students.