Archive | Parent trigger

Parent empowerment advocate says: Make education a legal right

What if the federal law guaranteed every child equal educational opportunity, and if they didn’t get it, their parents could sue?

That’s one of the more compelling suggestions in a collection of education ideas for the next president, released this week by Bellwether Education Partners. It comes from Ben Austin, an advocate for parent trigger laws in California. He’s now on the board of Students Matter, an organization pushing to transform teacher tenure and other educational policies through the courts.

He writes: Continue Reading →

Parent trigger, revisited

A so-called parent trigger law is the rare education reform policy that didn’t make it in Florida. It’s still on the books in California, though, and in the years since it was twice defeated here, it’s had more time to mature.

So how’s it working?

The Hechinger Report looks at some of the most recent applications of California’s 2010 Parent Empowerment Act:

In Los Angeles, the parent-trigger law, once considered the fast track to turning struggling California schools over to independently operated charters, has instead become a bargaining chip in brokering deals with the district. The alliance between 20th Street Elementary parents and Los Angeles Unified is the latest case in which the district has skirted the loss of a public school to a charter operator. In May of last year, parents from West Athens Elementary in South Los Angeles invoked the parent-trigger law to get more teacher training, computers, a fresh coat of paint, and a $300,000 investment in new staff.

“The vast majority of times parents are using their power to make changes within the district rather than turning to a charter,” says Gabe Rose, chief strategy officer for Parent Revolution, a local nonprofit that trains and finances parents who want to use the law. “People throw around random theories that this is about creating more charter schools or making Bill Gates more money. The reality is that parents are using the law to create a new sense of urgency, to flip the script and create a new catalyst for district bureaucracies that have been inattentive to the lowest-performing schools for many years.”

Continue Reading →

Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Parent empowerment, transparent transparency and sad, but happy birthdays

MrGibbonsReportCardGloria Romero  

Gloria Romero, a former Democratic majority leader of the California Senate, helped pass a bill that required parents to be informed if their child attended a school in the bottom 10 percent of all public schools in California. If they did, the parents could stick around at the school and try to transform it (for example, by converting it to a public charter school) or transfer to a different public school.

The teacher unions and school districts opposed the bill, sued to stop the program, and continue to fight the program to this very day.

Gloria Romero

Gloria Romero

According to Romero, the state department of education delayed releasing the list of lowest-performing schools until the last minute. With only a few weeks remaining before the transfer deadline, L.A. Unified finally posted the transfer application, but only in English and only online. Districts also denied parent groups from informing parents of their rights at school events such as PTA meetings.

Kudos to Romero and the California Center for Parent Empowerment for highlighting these obstacles and fighting with and on behalf of parents to knock them down.

Grade: Satisfactory


Carmen Farina

CFNYCCarmen Farina, the chancellor of New York City Public Schools, recently accused charter schools of pushing out low-performing students just before statewide exams.

Charter schools responded by demanding the chancellor back up her claims with evidence. And the local union president more or less sided with them, saying enrollment data for both charter and district schools should be audited and disclosed. Marcus Winters even took her to task for misreading what little data is available.

Perhaps with some irony, Farina made those remarks while clarifying her position on how charter schools need to be more transparent. Now she has the opportunity to be transparent about her claims.

Grade: Needs Improvement


Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

“Polly” Williams

Happy Birthday! The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, America’s longest-running private K-12 school voucher program, is now 25 years old.

The program has not gone without controversies and critics but researchers generally find, at worst, no difference with traditional public schools and, at best, small but positive achievement gains, graduation rates and college attendance for participating students. Importantly, parents and students are happier going to the school of their choice rather than one assigned to them by the government. On a sadder note, Annette “Polly” Williams, a leading black Democrat and school choice leader who pioneered the program recently passed away. Her legacy, however, lives on.

Grade: Satisfactory


Gloria Romero gives parent empowerment a new push

California’s parent empowerment law spawned organizing campaigns aimed at transforming individual schools by parent petition, and went on to inspire legislative showdowns over similar “parent trigger” legislation across the country, including in Florida.

Gloria Romero

Gloria Romero

Yet that was only half of what the law did.  Another part of the 2010 statute could affect students at 1,000 California schools, and one of the law’s original architects says that provision has yet to get the attention it deserves.

In brief, it also allows parents at those schools, determined to be the lowest-performing in the state, to transfer their children to a higher-performing public school. It’s analogous to Florida’s Opportunity Scholarships, which allow children assigned to schools that earn low grades to transfer to other public schools.

California’s program casts a wider net that could affect nearly 10 times the number of schools. But it can’t help parents who don’t know it exists, or whether its applies to their schools, or what it allows them to do.

For that reason, former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who sponsored the original legislation, has set up a new organization aimed at informing parents of their rights under the law.

“We want to create public awareness – to reach out to parents whose kids are enrolled in one of these 1,000 schools,” she said.

Starting this summmer, the Center for Parent Empowerment has been operating out of an office in East Los Angeles. In addition to cajoling education officials to support the goals of the law she helped put on the books, the Democratic former lawmaker says she plans to hold meetings with parents from key schools on the list.

In a recent phone interview, Romero said the state’s convoluted formula for selecting the “persistently lowest achieving” schools isn’t perfect. But she’s also had a hard time getting good information from school districts about how many parents are taking advantage of the law, and what’s being done to inform them of their options. Continue Reading →

Democratic leaders will follow parents on ed reform, eventually

Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in our series on the Democratic Party’s growing divide over ed reform and ed choice.



One of my first jobs after graduating from college was working on the 1992 Clinton campaign, then working in the Clinton White House. As a young adult, I saw Democratic and progressive politics as a vital path to transformative change. Two decades later, I still do.

I am a Democrat because I believe government must play a central role in providing opportunity and hope for all Americans, especially low-income communities and communities of color who are falling farther and farther behind in the new economy.DONKEY1a

Over the past few years, the debate over parent empowerment laws – commonly known as “parent trigger” laws – has highlighted the rift within the Democratic Party about how to address a public education system that continues to fail countless low-income students and students of color every year. This debate highlights a pivotal crossroads that the Democratic Party faces over the coming decade. When it comes to educating the next generation of children in this country, are we going to be the party of 20th Century ideologies and rigid top-down initiatives, or are we going to be the party of pragmatism, empowerment and solutions for kids?

Parent empowerment laws are based on the simple idea that parents whose children are trapped in systemically failing schools should have real, legal power to create changes at their children’s school. This gives organized, informed, and engaged parents historic new leverage to force the system to serve the interests of their children, and helps to enfranchise a class of our society that has been systemically shut out of decision making within public education.

Because this is a fundamentally progressive idea – giving power to parents in predominantly low-income communities to advocate for the interests of their children – it has been strongly endorsed by a number of high-profile, progressive leaders within the Democratic Party, including ranking Democratic House Education Committee member Rep. George Miller, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, current mayor Eric Garcetti, and the entire United States Conference of Mayors.  It is equally popular amongst progressive voters. In a recent poll of California voters, 76 percent of voters overall and 82 percent of Latinos support the California parent empowerment law. In PDK/Gallup’s annual education poll in 2012, 70 percent were in favor of parent empowerment laws.

Unfortunately, powerful elements of the Democratic Party’s traditional 20th Century coalition, most notably the leadership of the largest teachers unions in America, have decided to treat parent power as a threat to their own power.  They have consistently fought against giving parents power from the beginning of this movement. Continue Reading →

StudentsFirst winding down FL operation



Michelle Rhee’s education reform group is scaling back its Florida operations, saying it wants to focus on policy battles elsewhere.

StudentsFirst will maintain a nominal presence in the state, but it’s pulling out most of its policy and outreach resources. Some of its leadership positions in the state, including state director, had already been vacant.

Lane Wright, the group’s regional spokesman, said StudentsFirst will keep operating in neighboring states. The group has been active in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

“We will still weigh in publicly on some education reform issues in (Florida),” Wright said late last week. “We will not be as heavily involved as we have been with our outreach and our policy.”

Wright said the decision was shaped in part by the fact that Florida has already adopted more of its policy agenda than any state besides Louisiana.

StudentsFirst’s state report card gives Florida especially high marks for teacher effectiveness, but its efforts to win changes in other areas met resistance. It was among the groups that pushed for the “parent trigger” legislation that died on tie Senate votes in 2012 and 2013. This year, it shifted focus to spending and governance, but a bill that would have required the state to measure schools’ return on investment did not make it out of the Legislature. Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: Catholics push for school choice, education races in ME and SC and more news

MondayRoundUp_redAlabama: Scott Beaulier, chair of the Economics and Finance Division at Troy University, says there is a large body of evidence supporting vouchers but the U.S. Department of Justice and others keep getting in the way ( The Alabama Education Association spent $7 million to defeat school choice and education reform supporters (Associated Press).

Colorado: A new study on public school transfers shows middle- and upper-class students are more likely to request transfers to another public school than less affluent students (Education Week). ACE Scholarships releases a study on the impact of scholarships on students in the state (

Connecticut: Education leaders in Bridgeport complain that the expansion of charter schools is hurting the district’s ability to predict student enrollment and estimate a budget (Connecticut Post).

D.C.: District lawyers claim a charter school funneled millions to a for-profit company to do work that charter school officials were already doing (Washington Post).

Delaware: A new bill will allow the Delaware Board of Education to restrict charter schools to geographic areas and by grade and academic emphasis if the board deems the charters will affect nearby public schools (Delaware Online). Republicans propose a voucher program allowing full scholarships for Free and Reduced Price Lunch students and 25 percent scholarships for students in families earning up to $110,000 annaully (WDDE 99.1 FM).

Florida: Palm Beach County wants a special property tax to fund arts education but the new tax won’t benefit the 13,000 students attending charter schools in the county (Sun-Sentinel). McKay Scholarships offer special needs students a way to find a different school that works well for them, but Fund Education Now, a group suing to enforce school uniformity, wants special ed students to have the exact same standards, instructions and method of teacher training at all schools (Sun-Sentinel). The state’s graduation rate improves (Education Week, redefinED). Continue Reading →

redefinED roundup: Charter schools and civil rights, debating the merits of charters, and can parents be trusted?

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama: Cameron Smith, vice president of the Alabama Policy Institute, shows readers the students who benefit from the Alabama Accountability Act (

Arizona: Gil Shapiro, a spokesman for FreeThought Arizona, says parents can’t be trusted to home-school or choose a good school for their child (Arizona Daily Star). Linda Thomas, a member of the Oracle School Board, says parents can be trusted to pick a good school (Arizona Daily Star).

California: Larry Aubry at the Los Angeles Sentinel says charter schools are civil rights failures because they are more segregated than traditional public schools. Avery Bissett, a student at Chapman University, says vouchers would provide the state an inexpensive experiment on how to improve public education (Orange County Register).

D.C.: Scott Pearson, director of the D.C. Public Charter Schools Board, says charter schools have helped to improve public school performance (Washington Post).

Georgia: During a debate among Democratic candidates for the open state school chief position, state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan said she will “buck the Democratic party for the best interest of children” and supports charter schools and tuition tax-credit scholarships (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Florida: Denisha Merriweather, a former tax-credit scholarship student, tells her story (redefinED). Ron Matus, the editor of redefinED, dispels the myths surrounding the tax-credit scholarship program (Pensacola News Journal). Scott Maxwell, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, says public schools lose when students are allowed to transfer to private schools. Chris Guerrieri, a middle school teacher in Jacksonville, opposes private school vouchers because students aren’t forced to attend private schools (St. Augustine Record).  Jac Wilder VerSteeg, a journalist based in Palm Beach County, says parents don’t know best when it comes to their own child’s education (Sun-Sentinel). The Orlando Sentinel reaches out to readers and finds 51 percent support expanding school vouchers. Two private schools have been barred from receiving McKay vouchers for reporting students that never enrolled (Miami Herald). Virtual learning labs become more popular in Lee County (NBC 2). Education leaders in Miami-Dade approve what may become the state’s largest charter school (Miami Herald). Continue Reading →