Committee passes “Parent Empowerment Act”

The “Parent Empowerment Act,” has passed its first hurdle in the Legislature. The bipartisan bill, SB 1001, authored by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, will give Oklahoma parents a new tool to accomplish dramatic and positive change in their child’s underperforming school.   The bill was approved 7-3 by the Senate Education Committee on Monday.

The Parent Empowerment Act establishes an Oklahoma version of a concept often called a “parent trigger.” 

If a majority of parents in an underperforming school sign a petition, they may transition the school to a charter school or terminate the administrators.  The option to terminate administrators is only available in Oklahoma or Tulsa counties.  An underperforming school is defined as a school that has received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for at least the last two years under Oklahoma’s new grading system, or a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for two of the last three years, as long as the most recent grade was a ‘D’ or an ‘F’.  If the parents choose the charter school option, the charter school will first serve all students in the existing attendance boundaries of the school.

Holt praised the Education Committee for its action saying, “I think the Parent Empowerment Act provides an important new tool for Oklahoma parents.  It won’t be the right answer in every circumstance, but where it is, it has the potential to change the trajectory of thousands of young lives.

Holt explained that charter schools provide more flexibility, and the goal of chartering an underperforming school under the Parent Empowerment Act would be to provide the flexibility needed to improve student performance at the school in a manner led jointly by motivated parents and school district leaders. The process of creating a charter school outlined in the Parent Empowerment Act is designed to create a collaborative relationship between the parents and the school district, rather than an adversarial one.

Parent triggers have been enacted in at least seven other states, most notably California, where the first schools are now in the implementation process.  Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi, The Oklahoman, and noted education reformer Michelle Rhee have all endorsed a parent trigger law for Oklahoma.

SB 1001 now advances for consideration by the full Senate.