Parental Triggers for Failing Schools

Source: Adrienne Lu, Stateline.org, July 1, 2013

…In reality, trigger laws, which allow parents to intervene in a struggling school, are a lot more complicated and controversial. Versions of parent trigger laws have been proposed in at least 25 states and adopted by seven, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In real life, parent triggers have been attempted only a handful of times….Opponents say parent trigger laws are a veiled attempt to privatize schools and that they have caught on only because of the money being poured into groups like Parent Revolution, whose funders include the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (There really was a Hollywood movie, “Won’t Back Down,” produced by Walden Media, about two mothers, one a teacher, who join forces to save their failing school.) According to tax documents, Parent Revolution received $7.5 million from 2007 to 2011 to support its efforts….

…In addition to Parent Revolution, parent trigger laws have been promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit coalition promoting conservative principles that provides model legislation to its members. ALEC claims 2,000 state lawmakers among its membership.

In Florida, a parent trigger bill died in a dramatic tie vote in the state Senate on April 30, echoing the defeat of a similar bill last year also in the Senate. Proponents, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, argued the legislation would have empowered parents. Teachers unions and parents’ groups countered the measure was an attempt to privatize education by handing over schools to private charter school operators.

A parent trigger bill in Georgia sailed through the House this spring but was withdrawn in the Senate in March for lack of votes. Under the bill, parents or teachers could have petitioned to convert public schools into charter schools or to impose a turnaround model, such as removing school personnel or allowing parents to send their children to other public schools.

In Oklahoma, a parent trigger bill that would have allowed parents to convert an underperforming public school to a charter school or fire administrators cleared the Senate but not the House….

In Louisiana, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal in June signed into law what might be considered a reverse parent trigger bill, which will allow parents to shift control of a failing school from the state-run Recovery School District back to the local public school system. Louisiana’s original parent trigger law, approved by the legislature last year, allows parents to shift control of a failing school to the Recovery School District, which is run by the state’s Department of Education and helps manage chronically low-performing schools.

In California, the only state where parents have actually succeeded in activating the so-called trigger, the principal at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts lost her job in May after parents petitioned to oust her. The California law allows parents to activate the trigger if a school has been subject to corrective action under No Child Left Behind for at least one academic year and scores below 800 on the state’s Academic Performance Index (on a scale of 200 to 1,000). The law also excludes the lowest-scoring 5 percent of school districts, which qualify for other turnaround strategies….