Twenty Ohio Schools Are Now Eligible for Parent Trigger Reform

Published November 6, 2014

Twenty schools in Columbus, Ohio are now eligible for reform under the state’s parent trigger law. The latest state report card data show these schools failed to improve enough to avoid the parent trigger option. The parent trigger law, passed as part of the state’s budget in 2011, empowers parents to decide how to reform chronically low-performing schools.

The data released in September by the Ohio Department of Education show these schools have been ranked among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools statewide for three consecutive years.  

Using the parent trigger, a majority of parents could vote to completely change the way these schools operate—selecting the school be converted into a charter school, giving control of the school to the state, or allowing students to enroll in neighboring districts. Other possible options include replacing at least 70 percent of the staff or handing operations over to an outside group. Change could take place for the 2015-2016 school year.

How It Works

Greg Harris, state director for the Ohio nonprofit group StudentsFirst, said the process has just begun in Columbus. The eligible schools were announced and a presentation made in September to the Ohio Department of Education, and the district has created a webpage about the issue, Harris said.

Harris is thrilled at the prospect of reform. “The school board in particular has been saying that the parent trigger law could be disruptive and lead to layoffs,” Harris said. “But institutions are created to serve people, and not the other way around.”

StudentsFirst has offered to clarify the law, tell parents what options they have, and act as liaisons between parents and the district. The organization will not collect petition signatures or start campaigns.

“We want this to be parent-driven,” said Harris. “The spirit of the law is providing parents with information so that they can make choices. What we are going to be is a good partner for parents who want to get something going.” 

How It Started

The parent trigger law applies only to Columbus City Schools. Former Superintendent Gene Harris volunteered the district as a pilot location several years ago. The law has not been used in Ohio to date. The reform process kicks in if 50 percent of parents in an eligible school district or schools within a district sign a petition demanding reform. A petition must be submitted to the district by December 31 to force a change for the 2015-16 school year.

The first parent trigger law was passed in California in 2010. Parents in two California districts have since tried to use the parent trigger law, but both efforts have been blocked by legal challenges.

Parents Blamed

Jeff Warner, communications director for the Columbus School District, said there are concerns the law could create problems for the district, possibly including layoffs.

“Columbus has great schools to serve our students,” said Warner. “Since [the parent trigger is] part of state law, we have to abide by it.

“The biggest concern is making sure parents understand what we have available,” Warner said, claiming the real problem is lack of parental involvement.

Warner said some of the district’s best teachers are in schools that could now be considered for the parent trigger.

“If we don’t get the parents involved, the performance is going to be the same no matter what,” said Warner.

Requires Parental Involvement

Education advocates such as Harris argue the parent trigger law inherently includes parental involvement by requiring such a significant amount of parental support for the law to go into effect.

“The parent trigger law gives parents leverage in a system that otherwise acts like it doesn’t have time for them,” said Harris.

Harris said the idea parents will not act in the best interest of their own children is a myth.

“People dismiss the parent role, but even in cities like Detroit, the highest poverty city in the country as I understand it, half the parents have made a choice when given the option,” said Harris. “When you empower parents with options, they will seize them.”


Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by Bart Everson.