Policy Documents

Calif. Schools Superintendent Denies Parent Trigger Law Is 'In Peril'

Ben Boychuk –

California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction on Monday released a letter to newspapers throughout the state aimed at clarifying his department’s position on the Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the Parent Trigger.

“Reports that California’s ‘parent trigger law’ is in peril are way off the mark,” Superintendent Tom Torlakson wrote. “It is unfortunate that many are relying upon hearsay rather than the Board’s actual discussions.”

Torlakson’s letter is a response to critical editorials published in the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune, the Los Angeles Daily News, and several other papers throughout the state.

Torlakson in February recommended that the State Board of Education delay approving permanent regulations for California’s Parent Trigger law until the Legislature could pass a “cleanup bill.”

Assembly Bill 203 by Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) is currently written to “technical, non-substantive changes” to the parent empowerment law, but amendments are expected. Brownley voted against the original Parent Trigger in 2010. Torlakson, who served as a Democratic state assemblyman from the East Bay city of Antioch before winning his current position in November, also opposed the 2010 bill.

Torlakson notes in his letter that the state Department of Education has convened a working group to propose changes to the Parent Trigger law.

The group includes representatives from the California Teachers Association, the California Parent Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers, the state Parent Teachers Association, the California School Boards Association and Los Angeles Unified School District. The CTA and CFT are on record opposing the Parent Trigger, while the PTA and CSBA have called for substantial change in the law.

Also represented is the Los Angeles Parent Revolution, the progressive activist group that helped Compton, Calif. parents collect signatures for a petition to convert McKinley Elementary School into an independent charter school.

Here is the full text of Torlakson’s letter, dated February 28:  

To the Editor:

Reports that California’s “parent trigger law” is in peril are way off the mark.

Despite news accounts to the contrary, no one has proposed dismantling the law. The question before the State Board of Education is: what rules should govern the process for carrying it out?

After requests by many organizations for additional input on this issue, the State Board asked the Department of Education to convene a working group of parents, teachers, administrators, and advocates for charter schools to help answer that question.

It is unfortunate that many are relying upon hearsay rather than the Board’s actual discussions. (Anyone interested in the actual proceedings can watch them beginning at 23:49 into the February 9th meeting [WMV; 05;11;56]).

The law remains fully in effect and operative. No regulations are required for it to remain fully available as a tool for parents.  And in my view, the only purpose of potential regulations would be to clarify the process for carrying out the law.

Our schools need involved parents—particularly ones who are ready and willing to use every tool at their disposal to help their children succeed. Without a clear process in place, however, we risk diverting too much of their valuable time and energy from classrooms to courtrooms.

The working group held its initial meeting last week. I'm hopeful its experienced parents and educators will help us arrive at a clear, transparent, and workable system—one without the acrimony that has surrounded the first parent trigger petition in Compton.


Tom Torlakson

Ben Boychuk (bboychuk@heartland.org) is managing editor of School Reform News.