Senator David Holt (R – Oklahoma City) and Senator Jabar Shumate (D – Tulsa) have introduced the “Parent Empowerment Act”, Senate Bill 1001, which will give Oklahoma parents the power to force a dramatic change in their students’ underperforming schools.
The Parent Empowerment Act would create a process where if a majority of parents in an underperforming school sign a petition, they may transition the school to a charter school, or they may ask for the administrators of the school to be terminated. An underperforming school is defined as a school that has received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for at least the last two years under Oklahoma’s new grading system, or a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for two of the last three years, as long as the most recent grade was a ‘D’ or an ‘F’. If the parents choose the charter school option, the charter school will first serve all students in the previous attendance boundaries of the school.
Sen. Holt explained that charter schools provide more flexibility, and the goal of chartering an underperforming school under the Parent Empowerment Act would be to provide the flexibility needed to improve student performance at the school in a manner led jointly by motivated parents and school district leaders. The process of creating a charter school outlined in the Parent Empowerment Act is designed to create a collaborative relationship between the parents and the school district, rather than an adversarial one.
“I think everyone involved in education wants the best for our kids, but sometimes schools underperform, and sometimes we all get stuck in a pattern we can’t seem to break,” said Holt. “The Parent Empowerment Act creates a path where parents can work hand-in-hand with school district leaders to break that pattern and set a new tone for their school. I believe this concept has the potential to dramatically improve the education being delivered to students in some of our most challenged schools.”
“I have consistently been inspired by the parents in my district who have fought for a better education for their kids,” said Shumate. “Oftentimes, this has led them to stand up for more choices and more tools, and I have stood with them. The Parent Empowerment Act gives the parents in my district a new tool, and that’s a good thing for our kids. I don’t think that the education of the kids in my district is a partisan issue.”
The power given to parents in the Parent Empowerment Act is often referred to as a “parent trigger” and versions of it have been enacted in several other states, most notably California, where the first "parent trigger" school is now beginning its transition to a charter school. Senator Holt had previously announced in September his desire to give Oklahoma parents this power through 2013 legislation. Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi has endorsed a “parent trigger” law for Oklahoma, and noted education reformer Michelle Rhee’s education think tank recently did the same. SB 1001 will be considered in the 2013 legislative session that begins February 4th.