Oklahoma Lawmaker Plans to Offer Parent Trigger Bill

Published March 18, 2014

One lawmaker is working to push Oklahoma to follow the example of California and a handful of other states by implementing “Parent Trigger” laws. The bill—which will be up for consideration in 2015—could enable Sooner State residents to petition the state to reform their kids’ failing schools.

State Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) has been the state’s biggest proponent of the Parent Empowerment Act, a bill that fits with other school choice initiatives.

Nelson plans to push for the legislation again in 2015 after his unsuccessful effort to pass education savings account legislation this spring made it clear a Parent Trigger bill “would not pass out of committee” this year, explained Megan Winburn, Nelson’s legislative assistant.

Parent Trigger laws allow parents to hold accountable schools with poor performance records after exhausting all other avenues of attempting to trigger change, Nelson said. The laws require certain reforms to be enacted if more than 50 percent of parents and guardians sign a petition for new school leadership, staff, or structure.

“If parents were to do a petition, that’s obviously a more public event than a few parents here and there around the state choosing to go to a different school. If a group of parents organize and start circulating a petition, that’s going to make the newspaper,” Nelson told Oklahoma Watch.

Uphill Climb
The task is not easy, as California parents can attest. School administrators do not necessarily allow parents to have access to other parents’ names and addresses, making the petition very much a door-to-door pursuit.

“Parents who decide to gather signatures on a petition are usually people who have exhausted other options. They’re the people who have already met with the school principal, and have gone to the school board meetings, and gotten unsatisfactory results,” said Ben Boychuk, an education research fellow at the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.

The first Parent Trigger was passed just four years ago in California. It allows parents to petition for their child’s school to be converted into a charter school, the option most have taken to this point. Others have chosen to use the threat of a petition to get their school to make changes they want. Opponents say it makes for enmity within a community, but Boychuk said that is just an excuse to cover up its potential for positive change.

“It misses the fact that these communities are already divided. Many parents seeking to exercise their rights under the Parent Trigger have already tried the sort of ‘collaboration’ that the bills’ opponents are touting, which amounts to ‘sit down and shut up,'” said Boychuk.

More than 20 states have launched failed attempts to include similar laws in their schools but ran into opposition, primarily from teachers unions.

Image by Light Brigading.