Colorado Considers "Parent Trigger," California Parents Struggle to Keep It

A couple weeks ago I told you that the “parent trigger” idea was coming up soon for consideration in the Colorado legislature, and dispelled any idea that it might have something to do with guns or horses. Remember? We’re talking about empowering parents to change low-performing schools so they can improve them. Ok, so now it’s finally here, and it has a number: House Bill 1270 (PDF).

If you live around Denver like I do and have the alternative of being bored this evening (and 8:30 isn’t past your bedtime!), then I truly hope you’ll tune in to tonight’s Devil’s Advocate show on Channel 12, as HB 1270 sponsor Rep. Don Beezley and my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow talk about the “parent trigger” with host Jon Caldara.

An Ed News Colorado story earlier this week gave a nutshell explanation of what HB 1270 would do:

Under the terms of the bill, more than 50 percent of families at a low-performing school could petition a school board to close the school or convert it to a charter or innovation school. A school board could accept the petition, propose another alternative or, in limited cases, reject the petition. Parents could appeal to the State Board of Education, which would have the final say. A combined parent-district committee would have oversight of a school conversion.

Schools subject to such petitions would be those that have been required by the state to adopt a priority improvement plan for the second year in a row or that are required to adopt a turnaround plan.

In other words, schools already identified by objective measures as low-performing. Students and parents may not be able to wait for the full five-year process to play out to close down or restructure a struggling or failing school.

California is the birthplace of the “parent trigger” idea, fueled by low-income parents and a liberal grassroots group and narrowly passed into law in 2010. Writing at City Journal, the Heartland Institute’s Ben Boychuk tells the California story and the precarious state of the law given new political leadership and school district leaders defending their turf with outrageous tactics. Reason TV has created a great 8-minute video of the heart-wrenching developments in Compton:

Makes you want to scream, doesn’t it? It’s probably safe too say Colorado doesn’t have many situations as challenging as the one in Compton, but we’d be kidding ourselves to deny the fact that many students and families in our state could benefit greatly from this kind of empowerment. It’s just important to recognize, as parents in Compton have lived firsthand, that passing the law is only the beginning of the fight.