According to a California-based organization backing Florida’s controversial “Parent Trigger bill,” the measure isn’t being led by charter schools or business-backed groups, and actually has the support of many in the public school system.
Among its many provisions, the controversial “Parent Trigger bill“ would authorize parents of students who attend a failing public school “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).
The bill passed in a party-line vote in the Florida House on Thursday. The Senate version of the bill, filed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, passed a state Senate subcommittee Tuesday.
Opponents of the bill, including the Florida Education Association and Fund Education Now, argue that it is not driven by parents but by for-profit charter school companies.
Linda Serrato of Parent Revolution, a California organization supporting the bill, tells The Florida Independent that that isn’t the case. “This is not an effort led by charter schools to come in and take over [public] schools,” says Serrato. “There is a very strong base of public school support in our organization.”
Serrato says that her group first thought that if all parents agreed on an issue, school districts would have to listen. It eventually became clear, however, “that districts didn’t have to listen.”
“We started to think about this as a union,” says Serrato says, adding that “parents needed a walk-out law” that would allow them to use one of Obama’s Race to the Top solutions or turn-around options.
Parent Revolution worked with California Democrats to pass that state’s bill, which eventually had bi-partisan support. She adds that her group has no ulterior motive, and no monetary incentive, to change state-run schools to charter schools.
Serrato, who is currently in Tallahassee to support the House version of the bill, explains that the Florida version of the bill includes language that would bar school districts from transferring a failing school to a charter school in the first year. “…the district has to have the opportunity to make the school better,” she says. “That year-long process encourages parent involvement from the get-go, [so that] the [school] district has the opportunity to reach out to parents.”
Supporters of the “Parent Trigger bill” include the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a non-profit led by former governor Jeb Bush.
“The Foundation for Excellence is a very pro-school choice, but for us, there are stopping points,” Serrato adds. “We don’t want vouchers – vouchers help one kid get out, they don’t make the community better. But. in this particular instance, people from Jeb Bush’s foundation and former Clinton workers and employees are working together to help underprivileged kids.”
Supporters in Florida also include Students First, a national organization founded by Michele Rhee (an education advisor to Gov. Rick Scott) that supports “school choice,” charter schools, and standardized testing.
Mark Pudlow, of the Florida Education Association, told the Independent earlier this week that the 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.”
Serrato says that the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, ”has not been working with us at all in Florida,” and that her organization is actually rooted in very liberal, Democratic politics.
She adds that ALEC might support the bill, but says that any claims that ALEC has helped draft the bill are merely “red herring arguments.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of 14 organizations funding Parent Revolution, gave ALEC a $376,000-plus donation in November 2011, to “educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement.”
Teacher pay tied to “merit and achievement” is an issue school choice reformers (including gov. Scott, Jeb Bush, and Michelle Rhee) also support.