States Adopt Trigger Laws, But Parents Not Taking Advantage

Although more than 25 states have either adopted or proposed adopting parent trigger laws, according to Adrienne Lu writing for Stateline – a news service for The Pew Charitable Trust – so far there have been only a handful of attempts by parent groups to make use of those laws to force changes on failing schools. Since California adopted the first such law in 2010, only two successful parent trigger campaigns have been recorded there.

After California, some version of parent trigger legislation was adopted in Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, Indiana, Ohio and Texas. Even this year more than a dozen states are either considering such laws or are modifying – and in some cases, expanding – laws on the books. Six additional states have rejected similar laws earlier this year.

Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles nonprofit that spurred the original parent trigger law in California and has helped put other parent trigger laws in place across the country, argues the laws empower parents.

“From our perspective, the importance and value of parent trigger is that it gives a legal status and a legal mechanism that parents can invoke and use,” said David Phelps, a spokesman for Parent Revolution. “It’s important that parents have an equal place at the decision-making table, that they be able to put forward a kids-first agenda.”

Those who oppose parent trigger laws believe that they’re attempts to privatize public schools. It isn’t that those who fight against such laws believe that parents shouldn’t have a voice in the education of their kids; it’s that they don’t think parent trigger laws are there to empower parents, but instead to give for-profit education companies a way into the public education sector.

“We believe in parent empowerment (and) parents having a voice, but we believe the parent trigger doesn’t do any of that and is just a stalking horse for privatization,” said Julie Woestehoff, co-founder of Parents Across America, a grassroots organization working to improve public education by bringing the voice of parents to education debates.

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.

The story of parent trigger laws is not just about where they are adopted, but also where they’re rejected. In Florida, where school choice policies have been traditionally welcome and embraced, a trigger law died in the state senate two years in a row, with the latest rejection coming this April.

The State Senate proved to be a barrier to a trigger law adoption in Georgia as well, where the legislation passed the House with no issues but never even came up for a vote in the other chamber due to leadership’s inability to muster enough enthusiasm for a vote.