Parent Trigger Laws: Our Mayors Back Them, Do You?

Hundreds of mayors support new laws allowing parents to seize control of low-performing public schools.
Mayors vote to allow parents to take over failing schools and fire the teachers. (Photo: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images)
Jun 21, 2012
is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, who writes about economic crises and political snafus.

Hundreds of mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Orlando, Florida last weekend voted to endorse "parent trigger" laws in their cities. Parent trigger laws allow parents to take over a failing school, fire the teachers and maintain control themselves or allow private management to move in.

"Mayors understand at a local level that most parents lack the tools they need to turn their schools around," Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles told Reuters. Democrats and Republicans alike voted unanimously in favor of parent trigger laws.

Advocacy group Parent Revolution, which has been a staunch advocate of parent trigger laws in California (one of the few states where these laws have been passed) released a statement yesterday saying this is a big step forward for the movement. Executive Director Ben Austin wrote:

This vote represents an historic step forward for the parent power movement and the education reform movement both within the Democratic Party as well as in dozens of big and small cities across the nation. Parents and mayors both intuitively understand the tragic impact of our failed educational status quo, as well as the moral, political and economic urgency of giving parents power over the educational destiny of their own children.

According to the Reuters article, a parent trigger law has not yet been successful anywhere. Right now, there are two court cases in California where parents are trying to push through takeovers in their underprivileged school districts. The fact that mayors are now on board may make it easier for a parent trigger law to be established—and work.

"The parent trigger is a mechanism that is a substitute for a terrible situation," Joy Pullmann, an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute, told TakePart. She says that, as "hyper-local officials" who are uniquely tied into their communities, mayors may feel that this is the best way for them to wrest control of their local schools which are often governed by centralized state rules. "Mayors and parents are natural allies," she says. "Mayors are held accountable by voters on how local schools function—they have a lot of responsibility but no authority. I think [this vote] is a surprise politically because parent trigger is controversial. It's a big deal for a coalition of mayors ideologically to say they back it."

Parent trigger is indeed highly controversial. Teachers unions have vehemently fought the possibility that a law could allow parents to take away their control—and their members' careers. Opponents argue that, as Democrats and Republicans seemingly unite in this effort, school privatization will eventually ruin America's public school network. It has also been argued that parents are just pawns in a game that will ultimately line the pockets of big businesses that ultimately want to take over schools.

Fifty-one percent of the parents get to make a final decision for everyone else's child. How is that fair?

"It's strange that the Conference of Mayors would 'endorse' parent trigger legislation," Kathleen Oropeza of Fund Education Now, a Florida advocacy group which has fought parent trigger laws, told TakePart. "We have always said that this is a scaled-up asset transfer of billions of dollars of public funds into private hands. Why are the mayors doing this? Parent trigger has been an abysmal failure everywhere it has been tried. Sure, parents are used to pulling the trigger, but then they lose all control. Fifty-one percent of the parents get to make a final decision for everyone else's child. How is that fair? Sadly, school privatizers used the Conference of Mayors for a political platform—nothing more."

While most people haven't heard of parent trigger laws, this news coming out of the conference will alert many to the fact that a school's takeover just might be an option. Furthermore, parent trigger laws will be even more embedded in the public's consciousness this September when Walden Media presents Won't Back Down, a film starring Maggie Gyllenhaal. Loosely based on Parent Revolution's work in California, the film follows a mother's struggle to revolutionize her daughter's failing school.

Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.

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