The Washington Post

Why Florida’s parent trigger bill failed in state Senate


“If we’ve got a bill called the parent empowerment bill, then why is the PTA against the bill?” Florida state Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) asked.

The answer is that Florida parents didn’t want it, because they didn’t see it as a parent empowerment bill. Instead, they thought that the bill, known as the “parent trigger,” would lead to the takeover of public schools by for-profit charter management companies and other corporate interests.

Not a single major Florida parent organization supported the bill, including the PTA, which is what Detert was referring to during debate on the hotly contested legislation before the 20 to 20 vote effectively killed it. Detert has supported many Republican school reforms opposed by Democrats in Florida, but this act went too far for her.

“The charter people will walk right in and take over our buildings … and I don’t know how you’re going to explain that to our taxpayers,” she said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Who has been behind the legislation? Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, for one. His education foundation lobbied strongly for it and even flew in advocates from outside Florida to testify on its behalf when there were wasn’t a groundswell inside the Sunshine State.

Along with the Florida PTA opposing the legislation in Florida were members in other groups including the League of Women Voters, Parents Across America, Save Duval Schools, 50thNoMore and Testing is Not Teaching.

Parent trigger legislation is intended to give parents with children at low-performing schools (based on standardized test scores) the legal right to petition the state or district for a change in school structure, with the parents getting to pick from a list of options. Those options include turning the school over to a private management company.

Proponents say it simply gives parents more options and power in their children’s education. Opponents say that it will lead to more privately run schools and contentious battles in school communities.

In the Florida capital today, as the legislature was debating and voting the bill, proponents, who had been dropped off in vans, wore yellow T-shirts with “Parent Power” emblazoned on them, and they handed out fliers calling Florida parent groups “union affiliates” and defenders of the status quo. Those are insults often hurled at those who oppose the “school choice” movement and standardized test-based accountability.

Florida is just one of about 20 states that are considering similar “parent trigger” laws; a few have already passed them. When this was first tried in Compton, Calif., the effort was organized not by local parents but by a pro-charter school organization called Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles organization funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation, and it bitterly divided the community.

Parent Revolution helped Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future push the bill through the Florida Legislature.

In this Associated Press story on the Miami Herald Web site, Linda Serrato, a spokeswoman for Parent Revolution, said that the legislation would help parents, not hurt school communities. She said her organization is not all about pushing charter schools, and if that really was its aim, it would be easier in Florida to simply open charters through the state’s charter laws.

But legislators disagreed. “It has everything to do with laying the groundwork for the hostile, corporate takeover of public schools,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston was quoted as saying in the AP story. “Parents will divide against parents and even children will divide against children.”

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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.


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