NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Parent Trigger Laws Empower Parents for School Change

May 17, 2013

In January 2010, California passed a parent trigger law that allows parents to change the administration of a poorly performing public school. After facing significant opposition, a local group of parents has received the nod from the courts that their actions are in fact legal. The court ruling and the group, Desert Trails Parent Union, demonstrate that families and the local community can empower themselves to transform a dysfunctional school system, says Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution and former deputy mayor of Los Angeles.

  • The Desert Trails Parent Union organized many parents who signed a petition, outlined their objectives, and met with teachers and administration officials.
  • Despite defenders of the school system perpetrating a campaign of lies, intimidation, fraud and forgeries, a superior court judge has concluded that parents are acting within the parent trigger law.
  • Following the support of the courts, the parents have convinced the district to allow a high-quality nonprofit charter school operator to take over Desert Trails Elementary.

Amidst a deeply divided political climate, politicians on both sides of the aisle are supporting parent triggers and the idea of giving parents more ability to reform failing schools where their children attend.

  • A Gallup poll found that 70 percent of respondents favored parent trigger laws.
  • Opponents of parent trigger laws say that parents have to navigate a maze of bureaucratic hurdles, which limits the ability of parents to be successful.
  • In California, the State Board of Education is working to streamline the process and remove barriers for parents to organize and address their grievances.

Education professionals say that parents do not possess the necessary knowledge to make meaningful reforms. Given the track record of public education, parent triggers empower parents to take a more active role in their child's education.

  • As the parent trigger evolves, better models of how to organize parents and encourage district and school participation are being developed.
  • Six states now have parent trigger laws and more than 10 states are considering implementing the laws in their state.

Source: Ben Austin, "Empowered Families Can Transform the System," Education Next, Summer 2013.


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