Policy Tip Sheet No. 1 – North Carolina Parent Trigger

Published January 19, 2011


According to The Heartland Institute’s 2010 State School Report Card, North Carolina public education ranks 47th in the nation in terms of Learning Achievement and receives an “F.” Currently, North Carolinians have little say in how their schools are improved and no ability to authorize the creation of a charter school.

The Center for Education Reform gives North Carolina’s charter school policies a “D,” citing an arbitrary cap on charter schools and limited ways to create new charter schools. Luckily, parts of the current charter law and public school choice requirements under No Child Left Behind make a Parent Trigger an easy fit for North Carolina.

Policy Solution

North Carolina should adopt a Parent Trigger that would allow a simple majority of parents at a school to “trigger” one of several reform options. Ideally, those options include closing the school and allowing students to transfer to better-performing public schools, converting the school into a charter school, or giving parents vouchers to use at the schools of their choosing.

The Parent Trigger is under consideration in several states, including Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Utah. Its popularity is due to its flexibility and the promise of increased accountability and competition.

For North Carolina parents fed up with failing public school monopolies, the Parent Trigger is the ultimate trump card. Rather than rely on the slow and cumbersome process of centralized reform, fraught with red tape and special interests, parents have the reins.

Policy Message

Point 1. The Parent Trigger empowers parents, investing them further in their children’s education.

Point 2. No school reform offers as much local flexibility, which is desperately needed in education policy, as the Parent Trigger.

Point 3. Allowing parents to trigger only empirically tested models of reform – charter schools and vouchers, for example – means parents cannot “get it wrong.”

Point 4. Voucher plans, like the one once in place in D.C. and currently in Florida, significantly raise parent satisfaction and graduation rates.

Point 5. A budget shortfall that is nearly bankrupting the state demands that we look at more fiscally conservative education reforms.

Policy Facts

Fact  1. Only 1-percent of failing schools actually get federally-mandated reforms under current system.

Fact  2. When adjusting for economic factors, a value-added assessment of North Carolina schools shows they rank 47th.
Fact  3. In research conducted in 2010, Dr. David Figlio, Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University, found Florida public schools facing voucher competition significantly raised student achievement compared to traditional public schools.

Fact  4. In the New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project, Dr. Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford University and her colleagues found, “By the time a charter schools student has reached the end of eighth grade, our estimates indicate that he will be scoring about 30 points higher in math than he would have been scoring if he had been lotteried-out and remained in the regular public schools.”