Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who Owns the School: Just the Parents or All Taxpayers?

Last week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention in Orlando, Florida, mayors voted unanimously to support the passage of "parent trigger" laws in public education. This would allow parents in failing schools to vote to override elected school board policies and even turn schools over to private management, mostly to for-profit charter school operators. California is the largest state with such a law on the books. An attempt to pass the law in Florida was unsuccessful due to the fact that nearly all Florida-based parents groups were against it. The only parent group that seemed to be for the bill was Parent Revolution, who is based in California

Other than the fact that these laws only serve as a ploy to increase the number of charter schools and there was no provision to turn a "triggered" school back into a traditional public school if the charter school fails, there's a bigger philosophical question at play. Does the community at large own public services, or are they only owned by the people utilizing them? Does the taxpayer with no children in the system have a say in how the local school system operates, or is it solely the property of the parents with children in the schools? I believe that the community at large has a say in the operation of schools, public parks, libraries, health services, etc. whether or not individuals in the community use each service. 

Parent trigger laws would take away the community's shared responsibility for the upkeep of the school system. If the power of elected local school boards is taken away through the conversion of its schools to publicly-funded but privately-operated charter schools, then the citizens will not be able to express their concerns about curriculum, facilities, financial accountability, etc. in an effective manner. It's important that citizens engage with their elected school boards and state education departments as they would their state and national representatives to lobby for the changes they wish to see rather than taking on the risk of turning schools over to private entities who would not be subject to the same level of oversight and accountability as traditional public schools.

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