Florida parents are taking sides over a controversial piece of legislation known as the parent trigger.
The buzzed-about bill would let a majority of parents at low-performing public schools demand dramatic changes at the school, or even have it converted into a publicly financed, privately managed charter school. Similar laws have already passed in California and Texas, sparking debate and controversy along the way.
The Florida version comes in front of House and Senate panels Tuesday.
Supporters of the bill say it gives power to dissatisfied parents.
“The more we can do to empower parents and give them tools to enhance their children’s education, the better outcomes we’re going to get,” said Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, who is sponsoring the proposal in the House.
But a coalition of parent groups that includes the Florida PTA says the bill is really aimed at promoting charter schools and for-profit school management companies.
“This isn’t about empowering parents,” said Mindy Gould, legislative chair for the Florida PTA. “This is about handing over the neighborhood school to a private, for-profit corporation.”
Under state and federal law, school districts must enact dramatic changes at their lowest-performing schools. School board members have a menu of options: they can replace the principal and pump resources into the school, hire a private management company, or turn the school over to a charter school operator.
Few districts in Florida have chosen the charter route; most have elected to change the staff and provide extra support from school system personnel.
Bileca said he believes parents should be part of the decision-making process.
If his bill were to pass, it would apply to low-performing schools where the school district has already intervened. If the reforms didn’t spur improvements after one year, a majority of parents could petition to “pull the trigger” and choose another one of the options.
The bill goes beyond the so-called trigger, giving parents the right to know if their child’s teacher has received unsatisfactory evaluations over time – and to be made aware of virtual instruction options from a teacher with better track record. The same would hold for teachers who are teaching out of field.
Backing the legislation: The Florida Chamber of Commerce and The Foundation for Florida’s Future, an education think tank created by former Gov. Jeb Bush that supports school accountability and choice.
“So often, parents are limited in how they can influence what goes on in the school system,” said Patricia Levesque, the foundation’s executive director. “This gives parents a legit seat at the bargaining table.”
But the proposal has been a lightning rod.
Don Kearns, of the grassroots education advocacy group Support Dade Schools, said he opposes the bill because it would serve the financial interests of charter schools.
“Charter school operators are heavily invested in this type of thinking,” Kearns said. “We shouldn’t be turning our schools over to them. School districts like Miami-Dade have done a phenomenal job in brining up the test scores.”
Kearns also had concerns as a taxpayer.
“We’d be turning over public assets, some of which are still being paid for by the public, to a charter school operator with no real oversight,” Kearns said.
Bileca, the House sponsor, said he envisioned the school districts maintaining ownership of the school facilities, though the text of the bill doesn’t address that point.
A House education panel will take up the proposal Tuesday morning. A Senate education panel will hear the bill in the afternoon.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/23/2604146/critics-say-parent-trigger-bill.html#storylink=cpy