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N.J. legislator proposes 'parent trigger' for failing schools

A New Jersey state legislator wants to give parents the power to pull the "trigger" on failing schools in a bill he introduced Monday.

A New Jersey state legislator wants to give parents the power to pull the "trigger" on failing schools in a bill he introduced Monday.

In his proposed Parent Employment and Choice Act, also known as "the parent trigger," Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R., Monmouth) wants to enable parents of children in low-performing schools to petition to force one of three overhaul measures, if a majority of parents in a given school sign on.

The measures are converting the school into a charter, changing school administrators, or establishing a tuition voucher program. It is unclear who would pay for such vouchers.

"We cannot make time stand still in districts with severe shortcomings," said Kyrillos. "Either we provide options to parents to effect rapid and wide-ranging reforms, or children will continue to progress through an educational system that is not meeting their needs."

Kyrillos' legislation is modeled after a law adopted in California this year. Earlier this month, the McKinley Elementary School in Compton, Calif., became the first school to get a majority of parents to sign a parent-trigger petition, demanding the school become a charter.

Similar legislation is being considered in Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Maryland, according to Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit that worked with the Compton parents.

"Education should be about children, not adults, and the only way to get there is through parents," Rose said.

The initiative has been controversial, and it has opponents, including the California Federation of Teachers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, some parents have withdrawn their signatures because they said they did not realize what the petition called for.

Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Gov. Christie, said that his office planned to review the legislation, but that the administration generally supported changes that eased the conversion to charters.

Kyrillos was chairman of Christie's gubernatorial campaign.

Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, was critical of the proposed law, saying it would "create a backdoor voucher program" in the state.

New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio said his group's goal was to give local boards a role in establishing charters, but he said his group would study Kyrillos' bill.

Belluscio said current law allows for converting a regular public school to a charter if the majority of parents and staff wants it. Kyrillos' law would require only parents.