The GOP-sponsored Parent Empowerment in Education bill, also known as the “Parent Trigger bill” for K-12 education, passed a state Senate subcommittee Tuesday. The bill was filed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers.

The bill, also introduced in the Florida House by Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, would authorize “parents of students who are assigned to certain underperforming public schools to submit a petition to the school district requesting implementation of a school turnaround option.”

The U.S. Department of Education‘s “turnaround” models include replacing the principal, rehiring no more than 50 percent of the staff, and reopening a school as a charter school (i.e. one that is publicly-funded, but privately managed).

Parent Revolution, a California organization that “successfully pushed for that state’s first-in-the-nation parent trigger bill in 2010,” said in a press release that the legislation ”was originally developed in California but takes on a number of new provisions” in Florida, “developed through bipartisan collaboration that ensures protections for parents and their local schools. Lawmakers have repeatedly worked across the aisle and included significant oversight to ensure that parents are protected and that the Parent Trigger process fosters collaboration between parents and their schools.”

Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association tells The Florida Independent that this bill springs not from parents, but from a business-backed group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council. “[The bill is] a solution in search of a problem,” says Pudlow. “It comes from the playbook of American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed group that writes legislation and shifts it to state legislatures across the country.”

Pudlow adds that  the bill “would [use] glossy campaigns to get parents to change their school,” allowing them to “troll for business, to get control of public schools.”

“It is not something driven by parents, [but by] for-profit charter school companies,” he says.

The bill also has the support of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a non-profit led by former GOP governor Jeb Bush. The foundation has also given its support to legislation that would increase the number of taxpayer dollars given to privately-run charter schools for maintenance, and increase the use of digital education technology in Florida classrooms.

A January article featured in Education Week noted that “the flow of venture capital into the K-12 education market has exploded over the past year, reaching its highest transaction values in a decade in 2011.”

In her article, Education Week’s Katie Ash pointed out that private equity firms looking for  ”high-growth opportunities” in education include companies like Education Growth Advisors and nonprofit venture philanthropy firms like the New Schools Venture Fund, which have invested in charter schools with the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in Green Dot Public Schools, which “operates high-achieving public charter schools.”

According to Parent Revolution, “the Florida Education Association decided to go ‘all in’ to oppose parent power, spreading the numerous lies and misinformation that have been spread since day one in the parent empowerment fight. FEA even went so far as to threaten the legislators with legal action if the legislation follows.”

Pudlow tells the Independent that “as far as threatening legislators, we have not contemplated legal action, we have not discussed legal action,” and “as far as the efforts being collaborative and bipartisan, there were talks at a certain point in time in which we said we would argue about certain provisions, [but] those provisions were by and large not adopted.”

“As far as lies and misinformation we haven’t been spreading any,” Pudlow says, adding “we’ve been telling people about what’s happened in California with their trigger bill, where charter companies have targeted parents to get turnarounds.”

According to Pudlow, “we ought to be looking at ways to make all Florida public schools better and not trying to figure out ways to get for-profit companies to come in.

“[For-profits] don’t have a track record throughout the country of providing a better education than public schools do,” he says. “We, as parents, as concerned citizens, as school administrators and teachers, should run the best possible neighborhood schools we can.”

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