Gloria Romero

Parent ‘Trigger’ Win in California Shines Light on Dysfunctional Public School System

The law, officially known as the Parent Empowerment Act, “creates a process which allows parents of students in low-performing schools to sign a petition to implement one of the intervention models,” according to the California Department of Education. Those models include replacing staff, turning the school into a charter, adding new programs or closing it down.

In 2014, the Anaheim superintendent sent letters to parents noting that the school “failed to meet the English-language arts and mathematics proficiency targets.” Many parents already knew that Palm Lane was failing the kids, so they decided to pull the proverbial trigger. School officials in general tend to dislike accountability laws and charters, so it wasn’t surprising that, instead of helping the parents, Anaheim officials fought them.

Those who want to see how poorly the district treated the parents need only read the California appeals court’s decision from late April. As the ruling detailed, former state Sen. Gloria Romero, the Los Angeles Democrat who authored the trigger law and was assisting Anaheim parents, complained to the district that anonymous people identifying themselves as district employees had been calling petition signers and telling them that their names don’t “match” school records.

“Even if you are personally opposed to enforcement of the parent trigger law, I am sure you do not wish for these parents and their children to suffer unnecessarily,” Romero wrote, according to the court. “Obviously, your callers should stop making statements that sound like the parents are accused of wrongdoing, and the callers should identify themselves.”

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Reflections on National School Choice Week

California is also home to a unique parental choice option. It became the first state in 2010 to enact Parent Trigger legislation through the Parent Empowerment Act. Under the law, if a majority of parents whose children attend failing schools sign a petition, school leaders can be replaced, students can transfer to better performing schools, or the school can be converted to a charter school under different leadership.

As Gloria Romero, former state Senator and author of California’s Parent Trigger law, told the Orange County Register:

School choice means that we are more than a default ZIP code, automatically assigned to remain trapped in failing schools when bureaucrats refuse to transform…School choice means that parents truly have the power to become the architects of their own children’s educational futures and opportunities.

Romero is right—but there is more work to be done when it comes to empowering parents.

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