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California’s Parent Trigger Law for School Transformation in Action

by Michael Higham, published
Parents demonstrate on the way to LAUSD headquarters // credit: Vanessa Romo, KPCC

parent trigger law

The parent trigger law in California puts significant power in the hands of parents. Under-performing public schools can be altered by one of four options after gathering a simple majority of parent signatures. Although the parent trigger concept became state law in 2010, it has been met with obstacles and controversy.

In California, a school with an Academic Performance Index score below 800 that does not meeting growth rates for three consecutive years is vulnerable to a parent trigger. If the number of signatures required to enact a parent trigger is met, parents have four options for school transformation:

Establish a charter school in the school buildings Bring in a new staff and exert some control over staffing and budgeting Keep the school intact but fire the principal Shutter the school entirely and send the students to better, nearby schools.

As of today, charter school conversion has been the only option advocated in parent trigger situations. A charter school is a public school attended by choice and are partially funded by the public. Charter schools have more autonomy in their instructional and administrative decisions.

24th Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the latest school to experience the process of the parent trigger law. The parents union of 24th Street Elementary stated it has obtained 68 percent of parent signatures, well above the requirement. LAUSD is currently in the process of verifying the petition signatures.

In its short history, the effort for a parent trigger has been used three times, including 24th Street Elementary.

At Compton Unified's McKinley Elementary School, Parent Revolution, a student-parent union, gathered signatures from 61 percent of parents. However, controversy broke out when parents claimed they had been misinformed about the petitioning agenda and revoked their signatures. Parent Revolution then decided to found a new charter school at the Church of the Redeemer, a few blocks away.

The second round of parent trigger law action experienced success. Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, CA had parents organized by Parent Revolution as well. The Adelanto School Board initally rejected the petition, but the San Bernardino County Superior Court ruled the petition to be valid. Desert Trails Elementary will be converted to a charter school in Fall 2013.

Unique to the 24th Street Elementary effort is the sense of cooperation with the active parents, the school board and teacher's union. United Teachers of Los Angeles have acknowledged the dissatisfaction of students' parents and pledged to work together. However, UTLA is not advocating the previous efforts:

"We believe parents do not want a private charter corporation to take over 24th Street Elementary, which is exactly what is happening at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto as a result of Parent Trigger."

Since California passed the parent trigger law in 2010, six states have adopted versions of the law. Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas vary in requirements in order for a school transformation, but have looked at California as an example.

Enacting a parent trigger is more challenging than it sounds. The selection of a charter operator and cooperation from local school boards can be contentious. School districts and unions have been uneasy about the parent trigger law, since it has the ability to trump union protections for teachers in public schools.

Whether or not the parent trigger law paves the way for higher quality education remains to be seen, but it has given parents more power to directly impact their local schools. The move from organizations like Parent Revolution to back trigger movements has been met with significant teacher's union opposition, complicating the validity of parent trigger laws.

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