School reform legislation that could have sweeping consequences if adopted was touted during a panel discussion Thursday.
The so-called Parent Trigger legislation, S2569, was introduced last December by Sen. Joe Kyrillos, (R-13), Middletown, and would empower parents to initiate major changes in low-performing schools.
Among other things, reforms that could be initiated through a petition drive would include transforming the school into a charter school, replacing the principal, and establishing a tuition voucher system.
The bill, whose Assembly companion is A3697, was referred to the Senate Education Committee.
The bill is topical in New Jersey where the battle over charter schools, the so-called Opportunity Scholarship Act, and Gov. Christie’s ongoing education reforms have created sharp divides along political, religious, and social lines.
Kyrillos’ meeting was presented with the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a non-profit research foundation whose stated goals include free-market solutions to problems.
According to the proposed bill, the petition drive signatures must represent more than 50 percent of the households in which a school’s student’s reside.
The board of education or the superintendent must notify the Commissioner of Education upon receipt of such a petition and its disposition.
According to the Institute, California passed the first such “family empowerment’’ act, the Institute took that bill and reworked its concept, and now there are approximately 15 such bills pending throughout the country.
Bruce Behrend, director of the Center for School Reform at the Institute, said that when parents are empowered, no matter the issue, the results are good.
“It’s not about the district or the school system,’’ he said. “It’s about funding the child, not systems. The money should follow the child.”
Money spent on public school systems has increased for decades but the results are not there, he said. Charter schools and increased parental choice are excellent policy, he said.
Kyrillos said that the Institute has been successful around the country with this concept. “New Jersey is a tough place to advance any kind of change,’’ he said, but if it can be done in California, it can be done here.
“We’re losing so many’’ children to “schools that are failing.’’
“Parents care the most about their kids,” Kyrillos said. The kids who don’t have a fair chance in life need to have their parents empowered to affect change in schools that need it the most.