Positive Reception for California’s Third Parent Trigger

Published February 8, 2013

Exercising their rights under California’s 2010 Parent Trigger law, more than 300 parents delivered petitions to the Los Angeles school district in January, calling for their children’s failing school to be improved or converted into a charter school.  

Parents are now reviewing proposals from eight different organizations and Los Angeles Unified School District to change the school’s curriculum, staff, and extracurricular activities.

“California is beginning to show the law can be effective in some ways in pushing the bureaucracy to concede to changes they wouldn’t otherwise make,” said Ben Boychuk, a Heartland Institute policy advisor. “That seems to be the case here. At this point, the precedent has been set.”

Sixty-eight percent of parents whose children attend 24th Street Elementary School signed the petition. Under California’s Parent Trigger law, the district must do as they ask. Seven states have passed similar laws, and about five are currently considering such legislation.

At 24th Street Elementary, 80 percent of third graders and 71 percent of fifth graders can’t read at grade level. The school has performed similarly for years.

Parent Trigger History
This is the nation’s third Parent Trigger attempt and the first in the second-largest U.S. school district. The first two attempts became prolonged processes marred by court battles, but Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy has pledged to work with parents in the current case.

“LA is kind of the birthplace of the Parent Trigger,” Boychuk said. In 2008, its school board created a school choice initiative where charter school operators and teachers unions could bid to run failing schools. “But it never really took off,” he said.

Although California has identified persistently failing schools for years, bureaucrats took few steps to fix them, notes the Parent Trigger’s original author, former Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles).

“If the bureaucrats didn’t have the courage to do the right thing and transform their school under existing federal laws, then I wanted to give the direct right to the parents themselves,” Romero said. “There was no sense of urgency in California. Kids and schools were just left to fail year after year after year, and nobody even seemed to blink an eye.”

Call to Action
Before the Parent Trigger, 24th Street Elementary’s parents attempted to petition for reform, but because they could not legally force action their school board ignored them.

In spring 2012, parents approached Parent Revolution, a nonprofit community organizer, to analyze their school situation under the new law. It did so in August, and helped parents form and circulate a new petition.

“Parent Revolution [aims] to provide parents with a seat at the decision-making table when it comes to public education for their children, and to ensure that the one segment that has no other interest in children and education—that is, parents—are fully represented,” said Dave Phelps, national communications director for Parent Revolution. “[The] Parent Trigger is a tool that allows that to happen.”

Romero is not convinced the Parent Trigger should be used as a negotiating tool.

“I never intended for parents to run the school,” she said. “Follow the law. The law is precise, the law is concise; it’s about action.”

‘Unusually Cooperative’
24th Street parents have so far encountered far less resistance than the first two Parent Trigger groups.

“Superintendent John Deasy has been unusually cooperative,” Boychuk said. He noted the district’s receptivity towards charter schools, public schools freed from many regulations in return for tighter accountability.

“[Deasy] is much more inclined to embrace some of these reforms than the previous superintendents would,” Boychuk said.

LAUSD has identified 24th Street as one of the lowest-performing schools in the district. It proposed to parents a variation on its Public School Choice plan, which launched in August 2009, a LAUSD spokesperson said.

Calls for Action
Every year more children are harmed by these failing schools, Romero said, so she urged quick action: “This is about transforming schools now.”

Media attention to 24th street has generated more calls from parents interested in reforming their children’s schools, Phelps said.

California’s Parent Trigger law offers parents four courses of action: close the school, convert it to a charter, or two ways to replace staff and curriculum.


Image by Antonio Villagairosa.