Parents, Democrats bash ‘parent trigger’ proposalby Dara Kam | March 5th, 2012
A coalition of parent-led groups, including the Florida PTA, and Democrats bashed a fast-tracked “parent trigger” proposal that would let parents at failing schools determine their fate.
The bill “has everything with laying the groundwork for the hostile, corporate takeover of public schools throughout Florida, a direct attack on public education,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said at a press conference this morning.
Before the event began, Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists handed out press releases asserting that national Democrats support the controversial measure. The California group called opponents “defenders of the status quo” and accused the Florida Education Association of invoking “new boogeymen” in “an attempt to confuse parents and political observers.” The “parent trigger” is now in place in first-in-the-nation California, Texas and Mississippi.
In those states, Democrats including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have favored the plan. The at-time unctuous, election-year parent trigger debate is pitting teachers’ unions and parent groups against charter schools and for-profit management companies throughout the nation.
At least 20 states, including Florida, are now considering “Parent Empowerment” legislation. The business-backed, conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has crafted model bills similar to the one (SB 1718, HB 1191) now on its way to the Senate floor in Florida; the House approved an identical measure last week along partisan lines. The Florida proposal is being pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education foundation, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other GOP leaders.
Florida’s measure is being sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, whose district now includes part of Palm Beach County but who is running what is expected to be a tough GOP primary in a district across the state.
Republican Sen. Paula Dockery joined House and Senate Democrats, parents and teachers union leaders at the press conference this morning. Dockery, R-Lakeland, was out sick last week but her “no” vote on the Senate Education Appropriations Committee could have killed the bill, which passed on a 4-3 vote. The Senate Budget Committee signed off on the bill at a rare Saturday morning meeting after a bipartisan coalition blocked it from being yanked from the committee and sent to the Senate floor, where a vote will likely come sometime before the session ends Friday.
Dockery was among those who complained not only of the content of the measure but how Senate GOP leaders handled it.
The proposal allows parents to decide a turnaround plan for chronically low-performing schools if 51 percent of parents sign petitions. But the measure does not include the same standards required for signature-gathering in ballot drives. Accusations of ballot signature fraud have caused problems both times the process has been invoked in California.
“There’s a lot of room in this bill for some real shenanigans to take place,” Dockery said.
Parent Linda Kobert, of Fund Education Now, objected that only parent parent was allowed to speak before the Saturday morning’s vote, and her time was limited to a few minutes although Parent Revolution national advocacy director Michael Trujillo was given much longer during a q-and-a with the panel.
“For the third time in weeks a real Florida parent testifying against parent empowerment was cut off in mid-sentence after only 15 seconds,” Kobert said. “We are tiered of being cut off, interrupted and not allowed to speak.”
Giving “highly-paid, professional lobbyists unlimited time to testify” but not parents “makes us furious,” Kobert said.
“If we don’t have the right to speak during a parent-empowerment meeting, who does?” she said.
The bipartisan Senate coalition may be able to kill the bill if its members hold together and all are present when the bill comes up for a vote. The attempt to bring it to the floor required a two-thirds majority but failed with 19 votes against it. The measure requires at least 21 votes to pass.