Every major parents group in Florida, including the PTA, has long been vocally opposed to the “parent trigger” legislation now before the state legislature. Recently, a new group called Sunshine Parents was formed, this one in support of parent trigger — laws allowing parents at a failing school the right to change the school’s structure. What seemed unusual about the group wasn’t that some parents in Florida support parent trigger; surely some do. Rather, nobody was standing up and taking credit for creating the group, which sent out a pro-parent trigger e-mail, with a link to a video, to legislators and other Floridians. There was an e-mail address for the group on the letter, but nobody responded to the e-mails I sent to that address.
The Sunshine Parents e-mail urges support for the parent trigger legislation, known as the Parent Empowerment Act. It says that “Sunshine Parents is a group of parents and organizations that support Parent Empowerment Legislation in Florida,” but it doesn’t give names of any individuals or groups.
The e-mail includes a link to this slickly produced video in which Florida mothers talk about their children’s education, though they never mention parent trigger or the legislation now under consideration. The PTA, however, is disparaged by one mom as a “social club” that exists to “bake cookies.” (Bob Sikes, the author of the Florida blog, Scathing Purple Musings, noted that House sponsor Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami) said the same thing during testimony on the legislation).
The e-mail also includes a link to a petition in support of the parent trigger legislation. The petition was started by former governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, which has been strongly pushing the legislation.
The parents groups opposed to the Florida legislation include:
- Florida PTA
- Florida NAACP
- League of Women Voters
- Citizens for Strong Schools
- League of United Latin American Citizens
- National Jewish Women’s Council
- Parents Across America
- Fund Education Florida
- 50th No More
- Save Duval Schools
- Support Dade Schools
- Marion’s United for Public Education
Florida education activists had suspected that the Foundation for Florida’s Future may have created Sunshine Parents, but Jaryn Emhof, national communications director of the foundation, denied it, saying in an e-mail: “The first we heard of it was when we received an email with the documentary.” She wrote that the petition was created by one of Bush’s two foundations, noting: “Any organization or individual can share the petition on a website or through email.”
After several days of mystery, the Miami Herald figured out who did what. The paper says in this story that the video was created by the California-based group Parent Revolution, which has been supporting parent trigger legislation in other states, including Florida. But it did not create Sunshine Parents, according to Parent Revolution Communications Director David Phelps.
According to the Miami Herald:
Parent Revolution spokesman David Phelps said his group had indeed “initiated” the mini-documentary, but wasn’t “directly affiliated” with Sunshine Parents. He said the connection was brokered through the Urban League of Greater Miami.
The Urban League is run by T. Willard Fair, who serves on the Foundation for Florida’s Future board of directors, and was a Bush appointee to the state Board of Education.
Fair said Sunshine Parents was newly formed, but said he was “insulted” at the suggestion that the group had been created to carry water for Bush’s foundation or Parent Revolution. “When minority parents decide that they need to flex their muscles, there is always some criticism,” he said.
Phelps wrote to me in an e-mail:
The Urban League of Miami and the Coconut Grove Barnyard invited Parent Revolution representatives to meet with them — and, through them, a group of parents who wanted to learn more about the Parent Trigger. Two members of our organizing team went to that meeting, and answered questions on parent empowerment, parent organizing and, of course, Parent Trigger.
Coming out of that meeting, the Urban League of Miami, the Coconut Grove Barnyard and the parents decided to create a group called Sunshine Parents. Our organizers suggested doing a video with parents sharing their stories and aspirations for their children; the parents agreed and a video was put together (using an iPhone).
So it would not be accurate to say we were behind the creation of the group. I’d be happy to put you in touch with the folks at the League and the Grove who can confirm that. The video was put together by us and shares parent stories.
My final comment would be this: If the critics — like Parents Across America — are saying there is no actual parent support for the Parent Trigger legislation in Florida, then they (PAA) seem to be making a lot of noise if (as they’re suggesting) there’s no there there.
StudentsFirst, the advocacy organization founded by former D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, had its own petition in support of parent trigger, but the Miami Herald story said there were questions about some of the signatures, with some of the people on the petition saying they hadn’t signed it.
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.
The Sunshine Parents e-mail sent to legislators says:
We want to be sure our sons and daughters are getting the very best educational opportunities, regardless of circumstances. The voices of all families should be heard in decisions about how to improve schools and where and what type of school our children attend. Senate Bill 862 and House Bill 867 give us actual political power to transform our child’s low performing school.
The Sunshine Parents are saying that it is time that politicians listen to us. We are saying:
We must insist on high quality teachers.
Parents are the best advocates for their children.
Parent Empowerment transforms communities.
Parent Empowerment allows parents to dream.
Parents deserve a voice at the table.
The PTA does not speak for ALL parents.
After watching the video, there are many ways you can support Parent Empowerment legislation in Florida.
1. Call your State Senator and tell them to support and VOTE YES on Senate Bill 867 because it gives parents real political power. Click here to find your State Senator.
2. Call Governor Rick Scott’s office and tell him to sign the bill once it has passed the Legislature. Call him at (850) 488-7146
3. Add your name to the thousands of parents that support Parent Empowerment legislation in Florida. Click here to sign.
4. Share the video link with family, friends, other parents, and people in your organization and encourage them to contact their Senator and the Governor.
Will you join us?
The Sunshine Parents
There is a “Parent Empowerment, Florida” Page on Facebook, which was created March 20. There were 22 “likes” as of 10 a.m. Saturday.
(Correction: An earlier version misspelled Bob Sikes’ name.)