Parents who went to Albany on Wednesday to lobby for the parent trigger bill came back optimistic.
They agreed to changes in the bill that they believe might give it a fighting chance to be approved before the Legislature concludes this session and heads home for the summer.
(A quick refresher: Parent trigger is a law already in place in California that says that if signatures are collected from a majority of parents at a failing school, those parents can force a federal turnaround model at that school. Possibilities include conversion to a charter school, replacing the principal and half the staff, closing the school, or a less drastic option known as "transformation."
Now back to Albany, where Mark Grisanti is sponsoring the bill in the Senate and Crystal Peoples-Stokes is sponsoring in the Assembly.)
After parents met with legislators on Wednesday, they agreed to three changes:
- A successful petition will need 55 percent of the parents to sign, as opposed to 51 percent.
- Closing the school will no longer be one of the options parents can force.
- The bill applies only to Buffalo. (It had originally been a statewide bill.)
"We're very optimistic," said Sam Radford, vice president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, and one of many parents who lobbied in Albany.
Parents were able to talk one-on-one with legislators throughout the day and share their personal stories -- something that supporters of the bill say was effective.
"We left there with a lot more confidence than we went with," said Hannya Boulos, executive director of Buffalo ReformED, which has been working with parents to get the bill passed. "Parents being able to give a face to what's going on in Buffalo was definitely a deciding factor."
Efforts to get parent trigger passed for Buffalo have made national news.
TIME magazine picked up the story, framing it as "game-changing legislation" in a "revolution" to reform local schools. And the Huffington Post picked up on both the TIME story and this week's Buffalo News story.
In the meantime, here at home, the Board of Education is raising questions about who paid for the lobbying trip.
Lou Petrucci, chair of the board's finance committee -- who, like many board members, is not exactly thrilled with the thought of parent trigger -- asked Wednesday whether the District Parent Coordinating Council used its federal Title I funds for the trip.
"If they paid their own freight, that's great. But if we paid their freight, I want to know where it's coming from," Petrucci said.
Boulos said Buffalo ReformED covered the cost of the trip, and said it was not an official DPCC trip. Some of the parents who went, she said, are not affiliated with the group.
"In my opinion, the school board is trying to scare the parents because they can't come up with an argument against parent trigger," Boulos said.
Our Albany reporter, Tom Precious, sent this update from the Legislature around 2:30 p.m. Thursday:
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat who chairs the Assembly education committee, said she did not embrace the measures by Peoples-Stokes. "She's a colleague who I have a lot of respect for. We'll certainly give it a serious look,'' Nolan said.
Nolan met on Wednesday for an hour with a group of parents from Buffalo.
"They certainly made a serious case for more parental involvement. I certainly would have to review, though, whether this approach is the best approach to do that,'' she said.
With the 2011 legislative session winding down in the coming days, the lawmaker said the clock is working against action this year. "It's a very big proposal, so it's going to take some review and there may not be time right now,'' she said.
Albany update, Part 2:
I just talked to Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who said: "It looks like it's taken a good step forward. I'm not sure if it's going to be a step big enough to get it out of the education committee before the end of session. But I think it took a giant step yesterday."
She said she plans to ask Nolan to schedule public hearings on the parent trigger bill, as early as this summer, to help dispel misunderstandings about what it entails.
- Mary Pasciak