Monday, April 7, 2014

Give parents and communities a voice in public education

[Guest post by Shirley Ford]

How often does a bill come along that genuinely places power back in the hands of local constituencies? And what does this bill have to do with fixing failing schools?

These questions are at the heart of Oklahoma Senate Bill 1001, the Parent Empowerment Act. If enacted, SB 1001 will return the right back to local parents to have a seat at the table in their chronically failing neighborhood schools.

Yes, this means current powers-that-be will have to share their government power with local citizens – parents, in this case. This is because SB 1001 empowers parents to proactively demand a better education for their children and force change through a petition campaign.

And this is precisely the work that we at Parent Revolution do across the nation to support parents who are fighting to ensure their community’s children get the high quality education all kids deserve.

Under the Parent Empowerment Act, if a majority of parents at a school sign a petition, the parents can demand either new school leadership, by bringing in a new principal and/or vice principal, or a charter conversion. Parents can even leverage the use of a petition campaign to demand the same type of moderate, teacher-supported improvements that current administrators already have at their disposal.

Parents and community leaders have been rallying throughout the state to support the Parent Empowerment Act. Despite the growing groundswell, the plan faces resistance and criticism from entrenched education interests, many of whom misunderstand the purpose of the bill and how it works on the ground. It is not unexpected considering the bill is a new tool for school improvement and will place more power directly in the hands of parents.

All of this begs the question: why fear the Parent Empowerment Act?

If a school is well-performing and students are learning, the school won't even qualify for parent petition and intervention. And if a school is failing, shouldn’t we take a different approach? Shouldn’t parents be involved, since studies have repeatedly shown us that student outcomes improve when parents get engaged? After all, we keep saying that parents need to be involved with their child’s education.

We know that all parents will place their kids as first priority in education policy decisions. As I’ve traveled around the state and heard directly from parents and community leaders searching for better options, they have expressed the need for a real opportunity to have their priority heard. Whether it is Oklahoma or any other state, I have heard this message time and time again from the community.

Why not give parents in poor performing schools the mandate to come together and become active participants in their local schools?

The Parent Empowerment Act is a limited but necessary tool to give parents hope wherever there are children trapped in failing schools. These kids can't wait for change. Their future – and ours as a nation – is at stake. The Parent Empowerment Act is wise public policy that will give parents the tools to demand better for their kids.

SB 1001 overwhelmingly passed the Oklahoma Senate but has been stalled in the House for the 2014 legislative session. This bill is an opportunity to improve public education and empowers parents to take a more active role in their children's education.

When the bill returns in the 2015 legislative session, we hope the Representatives and Senators will come to better understand and support the legislation.

To learn more about the Parent Empowerment Act and what you can do to help, visit

[Shirley Ford is Director of African-American Affairs and Community Engagement Officer for Parent Revolution. An original member of Parent Revolution’s staff, she was one of the preeminent organizers who was instrumental in the narrow passage of California’s Parent Trigger law – the first in the nation.]

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