Media Release: Heartland Institute Experts Comment on Compton ‘Parent Trigger’ Lawsuit

Published February 3, 2011

Parents at McKinley Elementary School on Thursday sued Compton Unified School District officials in Los Angeles County Superior Court for trying to block a petition that would convert that failing school into an independent charter.

The Compton parents are the first to use California’s parent empowerment law, also known as the Parent Trigger. They’re seeking class-action status, alleging the school district is imposing “burdensome and intrusive” rules that violate the year-old state law.

Under the Parent Trigger, if half the parents whose children attend a failing public school sign a petition demanding change at the school, the district must either shut it down, allow it to become a charter school, or adopt one of two other federally prescribed “turnaround” models.

Compton Unified sat on the parents’ petition for weeks until late last month, when district officials issued an ultimatum requiring parents to show up at the district office for a “short interview” and to sign a form verifying their signatures or have the petition be disqualified. The parents have asked the court to block the district, saying those rules are “burdensome and intrusive.”

Approximately a dozen states, including Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wyoming, have introduced or are circulating draft Parent Trigger bills that build on California’s law. The Heartland Institute has led the way in promoting the Parent Trigger to legislators and policymakers around the United States.

The following statements from education policy experts at The Heartland Institute may be used for attribution. For additional research and commentary on the Parent Trigger in California and nearly a dozen other states, visit You may also reach out directly to these Heartland Institute experts with the contact info below.
“This lawsuit puts the exclamation point on the power of the Parent Trigger. For the first time in generations, parents have the authority to force a substantive change in a school district, and the entrenched interests of the existing system do all they can to strip them of that power.

“The Parent Trigger follows the Civil Rights model of the 1960s. Rights are gained, the system fights to deny those rights, and the people must resort to the courts to enforce their rights. Nothing benefits the disadvantaged more than access to a quality education.”

Bruno Behrend
Director, Center for School Reform
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]
“It isn’t easy for parents to organize against the education establishment. They can’t simply walk into the school district central office and ask for a list of names and addresses of other parents. Even with the Parent Trigger law on parents’ side, school districts still hold a powerful institutional advantage.
“We can see such an institution flex its muscles in Compton, where opponents of this modest reform want to place a lock on the Parent Trigger. The district really wants to dilute the law with bizarre verification rules and public meetings where officials control the agenda and hold the gavel.

“The McKinley parents are saying ‘No way.’ This lawsuit is really a vindication of parents’ rights. The fact that it had to be filed in the first place shows just how frightened of reform the education establishment really is.”

Ben Boychuk
Managing Editor, School Reform News
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]
“What gets lost in the shuffle of bureaucracy and litigation is a relatively simple but incredibly powerful point: More than half of the parents at this particular school consider it failing beyond the help of typical government-sponsored intervention models. I challenge anyone to find a school where half of the parents would agree on the name of the school mascot. Here we’ve got them to organize and unify under one common goal, only to be nit-picked to death by the bureaucracy. Rather than embracing parents’ renewed interest in their child’s education, California is fighting back in fear of change.

“The resilience and involvement of Compton parents is truly admirable. Let’s hope history shows this as the final push to bring about major systemic change, not the last uprising before complete parent apathy.”

Marc Oestreich
Legislative Analyst
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]