Parent Trigger Laws to Get Real Test as Overhauled Schools Open

Since the time the first parent trigger measures entered law books in states across the country, the method of parents taking control and defining the direction of their local schools been mired in controversy. However, until this fall, the arguments – both pro and against – were grounded in theory. That is about to change, and as Natasha Lindstrom of Hechinger Report explains, three schools overhauled under parent trigger law provisions will open their doors in Southern California.

California was the first state to pass a parent trigger measure in 2010. Soon after, the first test case – the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto – hit the courts. After years of legal back-and-forth, Desert Trails is set to open as a charter next month.

Yet even before people draw conclusions on the law's first successes, Lindstrom argues that the whole enterprise is doomed.

When the law was passed in 2010, Former California State Sen. Gloria Romero, its author, compared it to the civil rights movement five decades before, and envisioned bipartisan support for parent trigger laws spreading to state legislatures across the nation. The 2012 Hollywood movie "Won't Back Down" aimed to build legislative momentum, but the box office flop only seemed to draw more critics. Three and a half years later, Romero's grand vision seems remote as opposition grows to any bill that even resembles a parent trigger. No group has succeeded in invoking a parent trigger law—or even made a full-fledged attempt—outside of southern California.

In one way, parent trigger laws might have been victims of a feeling of mistrust of anything associated with the school reform movement. Oklahoma's state senator David Holt and Florida state senator Kelli Stargel make similar points – the inherent value of parent trigger laws has been consumed in a broader ideological battle. It is no longer about giving parents more a voice in the running of their local schools, they suggest — it is now a small skirmish in the grand political fight between the education establishment and those who seek to challenge the status quo.

Non-profit Parent Revolution has been working to change the image and implementation of the parent trigger. The national group and its local chapters have been behind the efforts to introduce parent trigger legislation in more than 20 states, although of the versions currently before lawmakers, the group supports only 14.

But Parent Revolution's efforts don't stop when the bills are signed. Without their organizing ability, it's unlikely the laws would have notched the three victories they have.

And parents do need that push. Even in states where laws are already on the books, parents seem disinclined to take advantage of the powers given to them. According to a Stateline story earlier this year, only handful of attempts to use the laws have been made.

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.

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