5 Facts on the Parent Trigger in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering legislation to reform the state charter school law.  This legislation may include a “parent trigger” to convert failing schools into charter schools.

1. What is the parent trigger?  The parent trigger allows parents to take greater control over a public school that consistently fails to educate their children.  In most cases, at least half of all parents must sign a petition demanding reform at the school.  The type of parent trigger reform varies.  Among the options used nationwide, parents may convert a school into a charter school, change the school board or top administrative leadership, or shut down the school entirely and allow students to learn at other schools.

2. The parent trigger is a significant education reform.  Parents of students at persistently underperforming public schools often helplessly watch their children fall behind while teachers, administrators and the school board flounder in dysfunction.  In the best-known case in America—Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California—Doreen Diaz saw her fifth-grade daughter struggle to read at a second-grade level.  Diaz formed a “parent union” that successfully won enough support to pull the parent trigger, though the case continues.  Strong intervention through a parent trigger is frequently the last option available to parents at a failing school to improve standards, and save their children’s education.

3. The parent trigger is growing in popularity.  Twenty states have considered the measure, while seven have enacted parent trigger laws: California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas.

4. Pennsylvania has no parent trigger law.  “Won’t Back Down,” a film starring award-winning actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, opens September 2012 and depicts parents and dedicated teachers in Pittsburgh using parent trigger to turn around their fictional school.  Though the movie is set in Pennsylvania, real Keystone State families have no parent trigger to pull, while our lowest performing public schools have failed for years to get a majority of students reading and doing math at grade level.

5. Pennsylvania can enact a parent trigger this fall.  SB 1115, which the state House passed in June, is a charter reform bill that includes provisions for parents and teachers to convert a school into a charter.  Strengthening such language to allow a group of parents to perform such a turnaround alone would create a meaningful parent trigger.

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For more information on Charter Schools and Education Reform, visit www.CommonwealthFoundation.org.