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StudentsFirst ‘parent trigger’ petition: Phony signatures?

A petition in support of “parent trigger” legislation in Florida spearheaded by StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s education advocacy group, apparently has numerous signatures on it from people who say they didn’t sign it.

That’s what the Miami Herald/Times reported in this story after questions were raised about the authenticity of signatures on the petition and reporters sent e-mails to everybody on it to see if they actually signed it. The story said:

On Sunday, The Herald/Times sent an email to each person who had allegedly signed the online petition. Of the 241 who responded, 212 confirmed their signatures. … But 29 people said they had not signed the petition….


“I did NOT join my name to a petition in support of the so-called Parent Empowerment Act,” wrote John Raymaker, of Tallahassee. “Instead, I signed a petition OPPOSING this act. More deceitful, incredibly dishonest tactics!”

E-mails I sent to StudentsFirst spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel went unanswered. The Herald quoted StudentsFirst Regional Press Secretary Calvin Harris as saying the group  “stands by the authenticity of the signatures.”
This is the latest rather odd story about the politics of parent trigger legislation in Florida, which has been passed by the state House and goes to the Senate floor on Monday. Parent trigger legislation failed last year in the state legislature, in large part because of intense opposition from every major parents group in Florida.
I wrote on Saturday about the solving of a mystery surrounding the creation of a new Florida group, Sunshine Parents, that supports parent trigger. Nobody took credit for starting the group, or for sending an e-mail to Floridians urging support for parent trigger, or for a video that was linked to from the e-mail that featured Miami mothers talking about parent empowerment (but not specifically parent trigger). You’d think that people responsible for all of this would want people to know who they are, but it was a secret until a Miami Herald reporter figured it out.
The fact that nobody took public credit led some people to think that one of former governor Jeb Bush’s foundations — which support the legislation — had quietly started it. But this is what happened (you can read the full story here): This Herald story says that the video was created by the California-based group Parent Revolution, which has been supporting parent trigger legislation in other states, including Florida. As for Sunshine Parents, it was spearheaded by the Urban League of Miami, which is run by T. Willard Fair, who serves on Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future board of directors, and was a Bush appointee to the state Board of Education.

For those who don’t know, the “parent trigger”  is intended to give parents with children at low-performing schools 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 (which include turning the school over to a private management company). Proponents say it gives parents more options and power in their children’s education. Opponents say it is a stealth way of turning traditional public schools into charter schools and that it will lead to more privately run schools.



Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · April 28, 2013

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