Three years ago, the American Federation of Teachers’ Connecticut affiliate did all it could to stop Parent Power activists from successfully passing the nation’s second Parent Trigger law. From going into “kill mode” to conducting behind-the-scenes meetings with legislators (and excluding Parent Power groups such as the organization that has now become the Connecticut Parents Union), the AFT ultimately found itself merely watering down the law in a way that, oddly enough, may end up making it more-powerful by putting families and community groups in the lead on school governance councils through which families can push for takeovers. And the tactics would ultimately embarrass the affiliate — and so thoroughly shame the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, that its president, Randi Weingarten personally apologized to state leaders and Parent Power activists — after Dropout Nation revealed a presentation by the affiliate at the AFT’s TEACH conference proudly discussing its, umm, work.
These days, there is another attempt to weaken the Parent Trigger law a little bit more. Under H.B. 5403, currently before the state legislature’s joint education committee, the number of families who now (along with community members) control the majority of votes on school governance councils from seven to five; teachers’ union officials would still retain five seats on the councils. By reducing the number of families on the board, NEA and AFT locals would be in better positions to beat back school takeover attempts because they could now work community members who would be in the middle.
Likely driving the push for H.B. 5403 is the realization, both among AFT and NEA leaders as well as school districts, that school governance councils are now in positions to launch takeovers if the families see fit. The councils had to wait at least a couple of years — and for districts to turnaround schools on their own — before pushing for a parent takeover. But now, that time has passed and the first 14 schools with school governance councils can exercise a takeover attempt. As seen in the case of families at Walsh Elementary School in Waterbury, which are now undertaking the state’s first Parent Trigger takeover (even as the district declares that it doesn’t need to pay the families much mind), there is enough of an appetite to make takeovers a reality.
Particularly feeling the pressure is the Stamford district, which has 11 schools which may end up being taken over by families if school governance councils decide to take action. [A charter school in the city, Stamford Academy, also has a school governance council in place.] This may explain why state Rep. Mike Molgano, a Republican, has moved to sponsor the bill. [Dropout Nation is putting a call into Moglano's office for more information.] There is also the likelihood of NEA and AFT mischief; after all the NEA affiliate has poured $3,000 into the the coffers of the state Republican Party’s legislative campaign committees since 2011. [The Nutmeg State's Democratic legislative committees have received equal amounts in that time period.]
So far, there hasn’t been a hearing on H.B. 5403. But considering that the committee’s two co-chairs, Andrew Fleischmann and Andrea Stillman were key players in helping the AFT’s and NEA’s unsuccessful attempt last year to kibosh Gov. Dan Malloy’s school reform effort, Parent Power activists in the state and across the nation have reason to be up in arms. The Connecticut Parents Union (to which your editor is an adviser) has already begun opposing the legislation. Given that it is National School Choice Week, reformers should get ready to help oppose another effort to keep families from being lead decision-makers in education decision-making as they should be — and having the ability to choose to overhaul schools in their own communities their children attend.