Research & Commentary: Georgia Parent Trigger

Published November 21, 2012

A Georgia legislator plans to propose an education reform that has garnered significant national attention: the Parent Trigger. The legislation, first passed in California, has been considered in approximately 20 other states, and state legislators in four have stated their intentions to propose it in early 2013.

Though the Georgia legislation is not yet filed, comments from state Sen. Edward Lindsey indicate his proposed Parent Trigger would allow a simple majority of parents at a school to “trigger” its conversion to a charter school. Other options states have considered include closing a failing school and offering students vouchers from the school’s per-pupil funds.

A Parent Trigger empowers education consumers and increases competition among schools, thus holding educators and school systems directly accountable for their performance.

Critics charge the measure could turn public schools over to private corporations, removing them from state requirements for public schools and reducing transparency in the spending of tax dollars. They also say not all parents want the power to control schools and the law would pit parents against each other and teachers.

Proponents say decades of research have shown private enterprises consistently perform services more effectively, less expensively, and with better customer satisfaction than government institutions. Charter schools and private management have a relatively short track record but already have demonstrated better student achievement at lower cost than traditional public schools.

Choice proponents also note parental authority over their children’s education puts power in the hands of the people who care most deeply about the children involved. The trigger requires these parents to work together, not against each other, and allows them to exercise their rightful authority. The measure also gives them a bargaining chip to make school administrators take their concerns more seriously, making resorting to the trigger less likely.

The following documents offer more information about Georgia education and the Parent Trigger.


Lawmaker Wants to Let Parents Decide on Charter Schools
A leading Georgia lawmaker wants to let parents convert traditional public schools into charter schools by championing a Parent Trigger bill in the 2013 legislative session, reports Fox Atlanta. State Rep. and majority whip Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) said such legislation would allow a parents whose children attend a traditional school to petition their local school board to turn it into a charter – an independently run public school. He says the measure would give parents more control over their children’s educations.

National Assessment of Educational Progress, Georgia Overview
This overview of Georgia students’ abilities in reading, math, writing, and science shows them below the national average in nearly all instances. Just about one-third of Georgia students in all grades tested as “proficient” in these core subjects. The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the nation’s most respected K-12 test, is voluntary and not high-stakes, and enables states to compare their students using the same metric.

Public School Graduates and Dropouts From the Common Core of Data
This publication from the National Center for Education Statistics measures states’ graduation rates using the same metrics and the latest data, from 2008–09 in a report published May 2011. It shows Georgia’s estimated rate of high school freshmen who graduate in four years is 67.8. That means approximately one-third of Georgia students drop out of high school. The rates are worse for minorities: the Hispanic graduation rate is 56.6, and for African-Americans it’s 61.2.

Parent Trigger Is Part of School Choice
Many public schools are deeply tied to their communities but not providing an excellent education for them, writes RiShawn Biddle. The Parent Trigger gives parents the ability to keep sending their kids to local schools instead of busing or driving them elsewhere, while giving them the power to improve those schools and have a say in their governance. School choice isn’t just about moving kids out of failing schools, but also about improving those schools. This is why the Parent Trigger is an essential tool of school choice and deserves to be part of any education reforms, he writes.

Special Needs, Exceptional Results
Parents of special-needs children who received vouchers to attend private schools report 98 percent satisfaction with their children’s new schools and 20 percent satisfaction with their previous public schools, according to this report from the Center for an Educated Georgia. Voucher enrollment has increased steadily each year. Parents also report school choice provides their children much higher education quality.

Real Reforms, Real Results: Florida’s Education Reform Lessons for Georgia
Florida’s reading achievement surged between 1998 and 2009 while Georgia demonstrated only modest gains and fell behind Florida, writes Matthew Ladner in this Center for an Educated Georgia report. Florida made among the greatest strides in the nation in closing its achievement gap between white and minority students and between low-income and higher-income students. The reforms that allowed Florida to make these remarkable gains included embracing public- and private-sector education options; curtailing social promotion of functionally illiterate third-grade students; creating genuine alternative teacher certification paths; and grading all public schools on a clear A to F scale. Meanwhile, Georgia still fails to teach basic literacy to 50 percent of low-income children. 

The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement
On average, children attending charter elementary schools perform better in reading and math than those in traditional public schools, finds a University of Washington study of the highest-quality research available. Students at charter middle schools also outperform their traditional counterparts in math. The study’s authors, economists Julian Betts and Emily Tang, reviewed 40 studies of charter school achievement that randomize students studied through lotteries and account for a student’s history of achievement using value-added comparisons – research considered the “most rigorous” by scientific standards.

The ‘Parent Trigger’ in California: Some Lessons from the Experience So Far
After nearly 18 months and despite a steady stream of publicity, California’s Parent Trigger has yet to be implemented successfully in any school, notes Ben Boychuk in a Heartland Institute Policy Brief. In 2011 at least 14 states considered some form of Parent Trigger. In defeating some of those measures, opponents cited California’s experience with the law. It’s far from clear, however, why opposition from vested interest groups should discredit the Parent Trigger or prove it’s unneeded. This paper shows the Parent Trigger concept remains as sound as ever and argues the Golden State’s experience suggests how the law and accompanying regulations should be strengthened to make it a more effective reform mechanism.

The Parent Trigger: Justification and Design Guidelines
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief presents the rationale for empowering parents with Parent Trigger legislation and offers design guidelines for parents and elected officials interested in crafting legislation for their city or state. Authored by Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast and Research Fellow Joy Pullmann, it is a companion piece to two earlier reports Heartland published on the Parent Trigger, and it carries the analysis considerably further by citing many of the bills that have been introduced since they were written. It also draws on experience with the young laws to improve on earlier ideas.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].