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Monday, January 7, 2013 - 6:02am

Ga. Rep. Pushes 'Parent Trigger' Bill

Georgia would become the eighth state to adopt so-called "parent trigger" legislation if state House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey gets his way.

The Atlanta Republican's bill would require local boards of education to think about converting their low-performing schools into charter schools if a majority of parents get behind the idea.

"In order to do that, the parents have to get a majority of the households that send children to the traditional school to sign a petition and make an application to the local school board," Lindsey said.

The "parent trigger" concept was pioneered in California and popularized by the 2012 movie "Won’t Back Down," in which Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character wrests control of her child's struggling school from an entrenched and corrupt bureaucracy.

But there's a key difference between California's law and the bill before the 2013 Georgia General Assembly.

In California (and Ohio), school boards that have been presented with a valid petition either have to comply with the parents' wishes or put forward an alternative plan to boost performance.

Lindsey's bill is more like the laws in Mississippi and Indiana; if parents come up with a petition, the school board has to vote on it, but the board’s "yea" or "nay" is binding (though parents could try again).

"What this simply does, is it encourages more communications between the parents and the school board," Lindsey said, adding that it's important to make sure district officials are on board with major changes.

Handing an existing school over to a charter company is a much bigger step, Lindsey says, than starting a new charter over the objection of the district — something the voters already approved in November.

"Parent trigger" policies have diverse backers, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the Walton (Wal-Mart) Family Foundation.

Critics, including teachers unions, say such laws mostly benefit the private companies that operate charter schools.