Ohio's 'Parent Trigger' Law Doesn't Work

by | December 1, 2015

By Bill Bush

If the state of Ohio's transition to new proficiency tests didn't kill the "parent trigger," it's put it on life support.

The GOP-backed law that created the parent trigger was inserted into the state budget bill in 2011 and took effect last year. It allowed parents at 20 extremely low-performing Columbus City Schools to take over buildings beginning this school year if they wanted, and every year thereafter.

But no parents were interested last year, and now with state lawmakers having flip-flopped on what tests to use for student proficiency testing, no new schools will be eligible for the trigger for the next three years, according to the Department of Education.

Though the department couldn't clarify on Monday whether the 20 original schools remain eligible for a parent-trigger takeover next school year, there appears to be little interest for the second year in a row.

"In fact, I'd say there is less commotion about it" than there was at this time last year, said Machelle Kline, the district's chief accountability officer.

"I have not heard a thing," said Greg Harris, director of StudentsFirst Ohio, a pro-charter-school organization chosen by the state Department of Education to guide parents on how to use the trigger.

"We're supposed to be an intermediary, but since last December (2014), no one has ever talked to us about it or approached us again.

"It seems to me (the state) just dropped it."

The trigger applies to parents whose children are in a Columbus school that has performed in the bottom 5 percent on the state report cards for at least three years in a row.

Under the law, those parents can demand to: reopen the school as a charter; replace at least 70 percent of the school's staff; contract with another school district or a nonprofit to run the school; turn the school over to the state; or "any other major restructuring of the school that makes fundamental reforms in the school's staffing or governance."

The switch to new tests means that for the next few years, in most cases, "there will no longer be consequences tied to the results of the state tests," the Department of Education said in a guidance paper on laws and requirements that were postponed during the transition to new tests.

As the law was to go into effect for the first time a year ago, some district officials feared a disruptive storm of building takeovers. But the result wasn't even a drizzle: Supporters could identify no one -- not one person -- who was interested in submitting a petition to the district treasurer to take over any school by the deadline on Dec. 31, 2014.

But the threat continues to hang over the district's head each year indefinitely, which some district officials find troubling.

The only reason that Columbus is the focus of the pilot is because former district Superintendent Gene Harris volunteered the district during a legislative hearing, acting on a major policy decision without school-board approval.

There are other statewide programs that also are now suspended because of the transition to new report cards:

--The automatic charter-school closure law. This requires charters that continuously have poor report-card results to be shuttered.

--The "challenged school" district designation. New charters can locate only in traditional school districts designated as challenged based on poor report-card scores. No new school districts will be designated as challenged until the 2018 report card is released. Districts already on the list will remain there.

--State vouchers to attend a private school. If a district school is scoring poorly on state report cards, its low-income students can apply for a voucher to go to a private school. No new schools will be added to the list of eligible schools until 2019-20, but schools already on the list will remain there.

--School restructuring. Low report-card scores can mean that district schools must reconstitute staff and programs, or even close. This law is suspended through 2017.

(c)2015 The Columbus Dispatch