With unbelievable enthusiasm given the early hour, a group of 40 Buffalo parents and community members gathered at 4:30 am Wednesday morning to make their way to Albany, where they were determined to voice their loud support for the Parent Trigger Bill. The trip was facilitated by Buffalo ReformED, a champion for the Parent Trigger Bill in Buffalo.
In short, the Parent Trigger Bill allows parents from a Persistently Lowest Achieving school (PLA) to petition to turn the school around according to one of three federal turnaround models: charter conversion, the restart model, or the transformation model. At PLA schools, the District is already mandated to employ one of these turnaround structures; the Parent Trigger Bill allows a majority of parents (55%) at a school to petition for the model of change they want based on the needs of their particular school. By giving legal authority to the parents' voice in this decision, the system is held more directly accountable and responsive to the needs of those they serve. The real strength of this bill is its power as a bargaining chip. If parents organize and decide on changes they want to see made at the building level, such as a longer school day, a focus on literacy, or more time on task, they can use their petition as leverage with the school board, forcing the board to negotiate with the union to make building-level changes or accept the parents' chosen turnaround model.
The logic behind the Parent Trigger is simple: Public education should be about what is in the best interest of students. Unfortunately, though everyone in the school system wants kids to succeed, there are competing adult interests that often interfere with what is best for students. This has created a system in crisis. Parents are the only stakeholders that have no competing interests when it comes to what is best for their child. Therefore, parents should be given legal power at the bargaining table in order to advocate on behalf of the best interests of their children.
The status quo is not an option. Statistically, the Buffalo Public School System (BPS) is one of the worst performing school districts in the state. Only 25% of all black males in the BPS graduate, less than 50% of all students graduate, and of those graduates, only 15% are college ready. Students in the Buffalo system are more likely to drop out or go to jail than they are to go to college. Out of 59 schools, 13 are classified as PLA, and 13 are likely to join the list soon. By any measure, our school system is failing our students and our city.
Given the devastating condition of our school system, parents are encouraged by the legislative support for the bill, which is officially sponsored by Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes and Senator Grisanti. In WNY, Assemblyman Hoyt is a vocal champion of the bill, and Assemblyman Schroeder committed his support as well. In Albany, parents received a pledge of support from Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the Assembly Education Chair; Karim Camara, the Chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus; and Annette Robinson, a member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. The Buffalo Common Council also adopted a resolution on Wednesday in support of the Parent Trigger legislation. Supporters are hopeful that the Parent Trigger Bill could be passed as early as this Friday or Monday before the legislative session closes.
However, whether or not the bill passes this week, momentum is undeniably growing. Parents and community members will continue working to build support for the bill in order to pass it in early January 2012. Parents have had enough, and they demand that their voices be heard.
Photos: Senator Grisanti, and Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes (sponsors of the Bill in Senate/House respectively)