Trigger Laws – Good or Bad for Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times started a debate/opinion page regarding so-called trigger laws which let parents who are dissatisfied with the way a public school is being run, turn it into a charter, replace the staff, or even shut it down, if 51 percent of the school’s families agree. The laws — which have been passed in various forms in California, Connecticut, Mississippi and Texas — have generated controversy.  Proponents of these laws see them as a way of empowering parents to take more control of their children’s education.   Opponents see them as one more battle in the war being waged against public education.

Diane Ravitch, education historian, comments:

“A parent trigger — a phrase that is inherently menacing — enables 51percent of parents in any school to close the school or hand it over to private management. This is inherently a terrible idea. Why should 51 percent of people using a public service have the power to privatize it? Should 51 percent of the people in Central Park on any given day have the power to transfer it to private management? Should 51 percent of those riding a public bus have the power to privatize it?”

Ben Austin,  executive director of Parent Revolution, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and a former member of the California State Board of Education,  sees triggers as useful in the school reform movement:

“Those seeking to understand parent triggers need look no farther than the parents at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, Calif., who are actually using the law in real time. Parents there have spent nine months organizing 70 percent of the parents at their systematically failing school. With their historic new power they have sought collaboration with their district and teachers union, not confrontation, attempting to use the leverage of the parent trigger law to negotiate. The parents’ efforts are not a manifestation of the other side’s for-profit or “privatization” conspiracy theory – their initial proposal was for modest in-district reform rooted in minor modifications to their school’s union contract.”

Austin’s example is not a problem but surely there must be concern that trigger laws open up additional opportunities for charter schools, most of which increasingly are being run by for-profit corporations.

Clarion, PA



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