Research & Commentary: Texas Parent Trigger

Published June 4, 2013

Texas legislators are considering strengthening 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. A Parent Trigger allows a simple majority of parents at a school to “trigger” one of several options, including its conversion to a charter, closure, or offering students vouchers with the school’s per-pupil funds.

Texas’s current Parent Trigger law, one of seven in the nation, requires parents to wait at least six years through their children’s school being marked failing before they can exercise their rights under the law. This makes it unlikely parents will use the law, and it reduces their influence over their children’s education.

Being able to use the Parent Trigger more quickly would empower parents and increase competition among schools, thus holding educators and school systems directly accountable for their performance.

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

Proponents note decades of research have shown private enterprises consistently perform services less expensively and with better customer satisfaction than government institutions do. Charter schools and private management have a relatively short track record but already have demonstrated better student achievement at lower taxpayer costs than traditional public schools. Parents and children of all races and income levels need all available tools at their disposal.

Choice proponents also note parental authority over their children’s education puts power in the hands of the people who care most deeply and only about the children involved. The trigger requires these parents to work together, not against each other, and it 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 improving Texas’ Parent Trigger law.


Texas Legislature to Vote on Parent Trigger Update
The Texas Senate will soon take up a Parent Trigger update that passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously after also passing the House, reports Ashley Bateman in School Reform News. Texas’s current Parent Trigger law allows the state to reorganize a public school or convert it to a charter if it’s rated “academically unacceptable” for three consecutive years. If the school’s rating does not improve within two years after state intervention, parents can petition to close the school or convert it to a charter school. Policy analysts, activists, and parents are saying six years is too long to wait for parents to intervene. Senate Bill 1263 would give parents the right to petition to close or convert a school after it has been rated “academically unacceptable” for two years. It also would give parents a simplified timeline and list of reform options from which to choose when petitioning for change. 

StudentsFirst State Policy Report Card 2013: Texas
Texas receives an “F” on the measure for empowering parents, despite its Parent Trigger law, because the law gives few real options for parents and is not combined with other parent-empowering policies, according to education policy nonprofit StudentsFirst. Texas should improve its Parent Trigger law by shortening the time required for parents to exercise it and expanding the options they may exercise. It also should require every K-12 school to receive an annual report card that includes an A-F letter grade based on student achievement. The state can also empower parents with information by allowing parents access to teacher evaluation information upon request and requiring notification of parents when their children are placed with an ineffective teacher. Finally, Texas should require that districts obtain parental consent to place a student with an ineffective teacher. 

Texas Parent-Trigger Law Needs Improving
Texas’s Parent Trigger law requires parents to wait through six years of their child’s school being rated failing before they can take any action to remedy the problem, notes James Golsan of the Texas Public Policy Institute. This seriously reduces the law’s effectiveness. It’s unrealistic to think parents should and can wait that long to make changes to their children’s schools. Texas House Bill 2976 would improve that law by reducing the time parents must wait, to two years of repeated failure. 

The Need for Parent Trigger: Six Years of Failing Schools Is Unacceptable
Hispanic students make up nearly half of Texas public school enrollment but perform poorly academically and drop out at high rates, note three Texas community leaders for Texans for Education Reform. Poor Texas children have similar academic outcomes. “It is almost impossible to change the direction” of schools that have posted low student achievement for years, they write. A Parent Trigger law gives parents the right and responsibility to improve low-performing schools, but this ability means little if children must remain in those schools for at least six years before parents can act. 

Texas Senate Bill 1263, Parent Trigger update
This document includes the text of Texas’s 2013 Parent Trigger update bill, sponsored by state Sen. Larry Taylor, and all its related actions and votes. At last look, the bill was awaiting action in the House Education Committee. 

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. 

A Parent Trigger for New York: Empowering Parents to Reform Their Children’s Schools
This comprehensive Parent Trigger report from the New York Foundation for Education Reform’s B. Jason Brooks discusses and clarifies the complexities of parent-driven school overhauls, summarizes the experiences and best practices in other states, and offers guidance for a model Parent Trigger law that would allow significant school reform. It also includes a brief history of the Parent Trigger movement, arguments made on both sides of the issue, and an analysis of the five key features that every piece of Parent Trigger legislation should contain. In the end, the ideal Parent Trigger law combines true parental empowerment with responsible foresight and planning to ensure it can deliver effective reforms for improving student achievement. 

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].