SACRAMENTO — Years ago, during a debate with a public school superintendent over the issue of educational choice, I suggested that we shut down the public schools in their entirety. Then we could “buy” education the way we buy other crucial things. We don’t expect government to build our houses (think housing projects) or our cars (think Yugo), so why our schools?
It was a thought experiment, meant to stir up discussion. Most of the audience then — like readers today — find this idea to be insane. Rather than debate the merits of a radical concept, I wanted to use today’s column to point out the absurdity of the current way we purchase education for the young, with a recent Anaheim dispute serving as a case in point.
Anaheim Elementary School Board trustees voted in late July to allow parents to convert the ill-performing Palm Lane Elementary School into a charter school. School officials have spent more than $800,000 in taxpayer money and two years battling mostly low-income parents over their effort to become the first Orange County school to use the so-called “parent trigger” law. The district had little choice but to relent after a recent comeuppance from the courts.
The law, officially known as the Parent Empowerment Act, “creates a process which allows parents of students in low-performing schools to sign a petition to implement one of the intervention models,” according to the California Department of Education. Those models include replacing staff, turning the school into a charter, adding new programs or closing it down.
In 2014, the Anaheim superintendent sent letters to parents noting that the school “failed to meet the English-language arts and mathematics proficiency targets.” Many parents already knew that Palm Lane was failing the kids, so they decided to pull the proverbial trigger. School officials in general tend to dislike accountability laws and charters, so it wasn’t surprising that, instead of helping the parents, Anaheim officials fought them.
Those who want to see how poorly the district treated the parents need only read the California appeals court’s decision from late April. As the ruling detailed, former state Sen. Gloria Romero, the Los Angeles Democrat who authored the trigger law and was assisting Anaheim parents, complained to the district that anonymous people identifying themselves as district employees had been calling petition signers and telling them that their names don’t “match”…