Our Parental Trigger Law and the Problem of Passing Laws You Don't Understand

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So I'm reading along in Nate Rau's story in The Tennessean about parents wanting more information on Tennessee's trigger law, which would allow a school to petition to flip to charter if 60 percent of parents or teachers requested it. And I'm mulling it over, because it's interesting to me, but I don't really have an opinion on charter schools. I don't think they're going to turn out to be the great public school fix-it folks are hoping for, but I certainly don't blame desperate parents for wanting to try new things. So, my feeling is that as long as there's a good mechanism for making sure kids who go to charter schools are learning what they're supposed to, and for shutting the schools down if they're not, then I'm curious to see how charter schools might do.

Then I hit this part:

The statute states that “an eligible public school may convert to a public charter school pursuant to this chapter if the parents of 60 percent of the children enrolled in the school or 60 percent of the teachers assigned to the school agree and demonstrate support by signing a petition seeking conversion, and the (local school board) agrees to the conversion.”

[Metro Councilperson Emily] Evans said the law as written leaves many unanswered questions, such as how would the school district handle a possible conversion if parents were able to garner the necessary signatures? She said parents would be reluctant to pursue a conversion if they ultimately must cede control of the process over to the school district. The law does not define how a conversion would work, if the effort received school board approval.

And now we're into something that really annoys me about how we make laws. I know most laws are not actually written by legislators, and in fact, I've gotten the impression that some of them are surprised by the bills that have their names on them. But if you are a member of the legislative body of the state — if you've taken that job on — then you should either do it in a way that doesn't lead to predictable clusterfucks, or step aside and let someone who will have your spot.

This means that when you put forth a piece of legislation, you should have an explanation for what you think the bill does, why you think it's constitutional, and how it will work.

Regardless of your feelings about charter schools or parent trigger laws, it should make you angry that we have a law, one that has even been revised, that either doesn't really do anything (oh, you're really pissed about the way we run your school? OK, we'll run it a different way. Oh, you don't want us to run your school? Too bad), or does stuff, but no one is sure what.

If parents want a trigger law that isn't going to end up wrapped up in court for years, they need to take the time not just to learn about our trigger law, but to find legislators and lawyers who will help them draft a more comprehensive and clearer trigger law to be passed in the next legislative session.

Otherwise, we're going to end up just like folks in California — with people pulling the trigger and ending up not with reformed schools, but giant messes.

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