Research & Commentary: The Louisiana Parent Trigger

Published April 5, 2012

Louisiana legislators have proposed an education reform that is garnering significant national attention: the Parent Trigger. The legislation, first passed in California, is currently being drafted in a dozen other states. The Louisiana Parent Trigger would allow a simple majority of parents at a school to “trigger” its conversion to a charter school and place it in the state’s Recovery School District.

The Parent Trigger 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 say the law would pit parents against each other and teachers.

Proponents say decades of research have shown private enterprises consistently perform services more completely, 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.

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 allows them to exercise the authority that is rightfully only theirs. The measure’s existence 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 the Parent Trigger in Louisiana.


Text of House Bill 976 (Contains the Parent Trigger)
The Louisiana version of the Parent Trigger allows a 51 percent majority of parents of students at a school rated “F” by the state for the past three or more consecutive years to petition for the school to be converted to a charter school and placed in the state’s Recovery School District. The bill also includes guidelines for the petition process and provides that parents shall be free from harassment, threats, and intimidation when circulating and signing petitions. It prohibits schools and districts from supporting or opposing any effort by petitioning parents to gather signatures.

Jindal Backing ‘Trigger’ Law for La. Schools
Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to give parents the authority to demand changes in troubled public schools, based on a California law promoted by a longtime Democrat and veteran of the Clinton White House, writes Will Sentell in Louisiana’s The Advocate. The article details the law’s brief history and origins. The Louisiana law would allow a majority of parents to petition for their school to join the Recovery School District as a charter school after three years on the state’s failing schools list.

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 rather than 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.

Don’t Condescend, Parents Know What’s Needed
It is absolutely immoral and unacceptable to tell families they shouldn’t do all they can to help their kids get great schools, RiShawn Biddle writes in the New York Times. Parent Trigger laws give parents another tool they can use to help children succeed. To argue parents can’t run schools ignores the reality that they already do equally important things for their children in other areas of life.

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.

Lessons from the California Experience
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. Several of those bills failed in part because 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 obviate the need for it. This paper shows the Parent Trigger concept remains as sound as ever, and the Golden State’s experience suggests how the law and accompanying regulations could be strengthened to make it more attractive for parents and effective as a reform mechanism.


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].