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State lawmakers weigh drastic school reform bill
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Georgia families soon may have the option of forcing school districts to adopt drastic reforms to turn around troubled schools.

A bill introduced in the Georgia Legislature on Thursday would allow parents to petition local districts to overhaul schools that consistently fall below federal benchmarks. Parents can choose among converting the school to a charter, replacing all the staff or even closing it.

The bill is being sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and Sen. John Albers, a Republican from Roswell.

"Giving kids more options is always better than giving them less options," said Rogers, a Republican. "This helps put parents in charge of education, which is what we need."

The measure is drawing opposition from teachers' groups and other education organizations, who say parents should be involved in schools long before it is failing.

"There are many, many things parents can do to help their school perform well and to be sure their school doesn't become low performing," said Calvine Rollins, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, which represents 40,000 teachers across the state. "We have serious concerns about the ramifications of this bill."

The bill requires a petition to have signatures from at least half of parents at a school or at least half of parents at elementary schools that feed into a middle or high school. The bill limits the number of schools that can be overhauled by a parent petition to 75.

Schools that would be subject to the proposed law include high schools where the graduation rate is less than 60 percent for three consecutive years or fail to meet federal benchmarks for two or more years in a row.

"This is all about the kids," Albers said. "When parents are involved in the education of their children — no matter where they are — it improves the whole school."

The bill mirrors the so-called "parent trigger" law passed in California last year, which is already under legal challenge. A lawsuit has been filed by families who say district officials have tried to thwart a move to convert a failing Compton elementary school into a charter school.

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