| September 26, 2012

Let’s trigger parental choice

State Senator David Holt, an Oklahoma City Republican, announced this week that he intends to file “parent trigger” legislation of the sort depicted in the new movie “Won’t Back Down” [see trailer below]. Big Labor hates the movie, of course, but Sen. Holt has never been bashful about standing up for taxpayers against the interests of Big Labor.

“A parent trigger allows parents at chronically low-performing schools to gather signatures and demand positive changes,” according to a state Senate press release.

If 51 percent of parents whose children attend a chronically low-performing school sign a petition, the parents may demand that the district transform the school. Those changes could include new leadership or staff at the school, or a transition into a charter school. … Holt will spend the rest of the interim working with interested parties to draft a parent trigger bill that meets Oklahoma’s needs, and will file the bill prior to the 2013 legislative session.

As Sen. Holt and interested parties continue to study the issue, I would strongly recommend a paper (“The Parent Trigger: A Model for Transforming Education”) published in 2010 by the Heartland Institute, which noted:

The Parent Trigger is unique. Unlike most reform proposals based on empowering parents, the Parent Trigger originates from activists on the political left, not from the center-right coalition. This pedigree creates an opportunity for building a successful coalition that can advance reform. Conservatives and libertarians should support the Parent Trigger because it could allow parents to choose charters or even vouchers (in the version described later in this paper); liberals and progressives should support it because it empowers low-income and minority parents to control the reform path their schools follow.

I believe this private-educational-choice component is vital. Granted, transforming a failing school is a positive change, as is transitioning to a charter school. But I maintain that public-sector-only school reforms are not enough, especially those reforms that can damage the private-education sector and undermine school choice for families.

Here’s hoping policymakers will consider a voucher and/or savings-account component of the sort described in this model legislation. As the Heartland Institute analysts observed, “Empowering parents to choose a different school for their children is in keeping with the parent-empowerment spirit of the Parent Trigger, and by making it one of three choices parents can make, it would once again free politicians from having to take a position on a potentially controversial issue.”

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