Florida Parent Trigger Enters House

Florida Parent Trigger Enters House
March 26, 2013

William Patrick

William Patrick writes for FloridaWatchdog.org. (read full bio)
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Of Florida’s 67 counties, only one has more African-Americans than whites: Gadsden County. Established nearly 40 years before the Civil War, Gadsden is one of Florida’s poorest communities, and one of the toughest places to get a good education.

According to the Florida Department of Education, one of Gadsden’s two public high schools received three F and two D grades over the last five years. The other earned three F and two C grades in the same span. Nearby Leon County, home of state capital Tallahassee, is replete with “A” public schools, including two “A” and one “B” high schools.

An education reform now debated in the Florida House of Representatives could shift Gadsden County schools.

It’s called the Parent Trigger. If passed, the reform would allow a simple majority of parents of students in failing schools to choose one of four turnaround options. Florida House Bill 867 passed the House Education Committee 11-7 on a party-line vote Friday, and now heads to the House floor.

The Senate companion bill is SB 862.

Opponents Charge ‘Corporatism’
The measure’s chief opponent is the Florida Education Association, a statewide federation of unions representing 137,000 teachers. The FEA claims the Parent Trigger “is about corporations that want to manipulate concerned parents into sabotaging their local public schools and turning over public property and tax dollars to them.”

The Florida Education Association was successful in waging a similar campaign last year, when in the waning hours of the last day of the legislative session, the reform died on the Senate floor following a dramatic 20-20 tie vote. Union supporters Debbie Wasserman Shultz, a Florida congresswoman and Democratic National Committeechairwoman, and former state Sen. Nan Rich, now a gubernatorial candidate, cheered from the Senate floor.

If passed, the bill would let parents reassign students to better-performing local schools, convert a failed school into a charter, or contract with a state Board of Education-approved private entity to improve the school.

It would also prohibit a student assigned to a failing school from being taught by a highly ineffective teacher for two years in a row.

Power to the Parents
Most people in the standing room-only House committee room were those hoping to kill HB 867. Half of the two-hour meeting was public testimony, with 23 speaking to oppose the reform and only four speaking in favor.

 

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, an education nonprofit founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, said FEA’s corporate-takeover argument is simply a red herring.

“Currently, teachers and school administrators—union members—are those most empowered to make decisions regarding turnaround options,” Levesque said.

Far from being a fringe idea, Parent Trigger legislation was first enacted in California in 2010. It has since been approved in seven states, and about a dozen more are considering it.

As for manipulative corporations convincing parents to hand over their money and children, only one low-performing school in the country has been converted into a charter.

California’s Desert Trails Parent Union, a local assembly of concerned parents, elected in January to transform Desert Trails Elementary into a charter after a long, regulated process.

Power to the Poor
And to middle-class suburbanites against the Parent Trigger, Levesque said, “This bill is not designed for the parent whose child is fortunate enough to attend an A or B school. It is for the parent who is forced to send their child to a failing school every day and feels powerless to do anything about it.”

Anitria Daniels agrees. The Gadsden County mother of three testified for the Parent Trigger: “Having parents have an active say in their child’s education is needed.”

Trujillo reminded legislators and interested parties that education changes are on the horizon. Even if his bill fails, the turnaround options could eventually come through federal mandates.

But if Daniels could have it her way, there would be no need for the federal government to get involved. Instead, parents would decide what’s best for their children.

“Without being concerned about your child and every aspect of their lives, especially their education, they won’t succeed,” she testified.

William Patrick (William@FloridaWatchdog.org) writes for Florida Watchdog. This article is reprinted and edited with permission.

Image by Village Square.

William Patrick

William Patrick writes for FloridaWatchdog.org. (read full bio)