Buried in our story about Sen. Bill Ferguson's education bill package was a particularly interesting and slightly radical piece of legislation concerning parent involvement that actually prompted the Baltimore Teachers Union to put out a strongly-worded press release.
Ferguson has introduced a "Parent Empowerment Act," which would allow parents of students at failing public schools to petition for a complete overhaul of the school's governance structure. Insired by "parent trigger" laws in other states, such as California, the law would allow parents the opportunity to "take their frustration, and use it to initiate change," Ferguson said.
Similar legislation is gaining momentum in other states like Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, and Florida. Ferguson said the intent of the legislation is to allow parents to intervene more quickly if their student's education is at risk. Currently, Ferguson pointed out that there is a 6-year-calendar for alternative governance plans to kick into action if a school is failing, "and parents in schools right now, don't have six years to wait," he said.
"This says that parents don't have to wait for the school system," he said. "They can initate it themselves."
But the Teachers Union believes there will be unintended consequences with so much parent empowerment. In a statement below, the union voiced its concern:
"...We have concerns that this new legislation proposed by new Senator Bill Ferguson representing Maryland's 46th District will define parental involvement as the mere act of picking a vendor, and will allow those vendors to simply treat this as an opportunity for a promotional campaign.
This is not going to bring us together to do the work that needs to be done. It says someone else will do it for us. The Parent Trigger format Sen. Ferguson is talking about in his legislation started in California and the early results from this program are troubling. We need to find ways, as was done in Connecticut, where a similar program is in place, to create a real path for meaningful parental involvement in improving schools.
In addition to finding the right way to get parents involved in the school community, teachers need to be treated fairly and to have a voice in their school with charter schools having programs that match the goals of their charter. We have worked on this with our charter school partners in the past and will continue to do so.
"If we allow outside forces to take over our classrooms, the continued success of our students will be in jeopardy."