StudentsFirst Backs Off Parent Trigger Advocacy In Florida

This year, national education advocacy group StudentsFirst will not push the adoption of a contentious initiative allowing for parent-centered education reform again. The group is responsible for pressuring Florida lawmakers to adopt the controversial “parent trigger” school takeover plan in recent years, but 2014 will see their advocates back off the issue.

Instead, the Legislature will be urged by StudentsFirst through its political capital to improve the state’s financial reporting so that families can see clearly how spending is tied to academic achievement at the school level.

Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor who has informally advised Florida Gov. Rick Scott, runs the group. StudentsFirst identified Florida’s spending practices as more concerning than the state’s parent-empowerment laws in its annual report card of state education policies released on 14th January 2014.

“Certainly, parent trigger is not going to be a priority for us this year,” said Nikki Lowery, executive director of StudentsFirst Florida. “It’s hard to justify going after that as a priority when we have a D+ in another (area).”

Parents would be given more power in effecting major changes at failing public schools, including turning them into charter schools, using the parent trigger — but the Senate has killed it twice.

Overall, StudentsFirst rated Florida’s education policies second best in the country, with only Louisiana doing better. On the report card, both earned B-minus grades. In the 2013 StudentsFirst report, Florida ranked second, which compares state rules and laws with an “ideal” set of practices that the group supports.

StudentsFirst has backed the elimination of teacher tenure and continuing contracts, and promoted separating teacher evaluations from contract negotiations among other ideas in addition to parent trigger.

As Jeffrey S. Solochek of Tampa Bay Times reports, last week, in a separate event, the respected national publication Education Week rated Florida seventh nationally for K-12 achievement up from 12th a year earlier. However, in the categories of school finance and “chance for success”, a measure of the impact of education across a person’s lifetime, it ranked Florida below the national average.

Florida collects plenty of data about spending and student performance, but has made only minor attempts to bring back its school-by-school return on investment report, according to Lowery.

“We want to encourage them to start that up again,” she said. “We feel like that should be a fairly easy thing to accomplish.”

Florida spokesman Lane Wright said that StudentsFirst is not giving up its support of the parent trigger overall. It has several other policy goals that it also won’t pursue in the state, such as equitable funding for charter schools as he noted.

It was “highly improbable” that a parent trigger bill would be filed in the Senate this year according to Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg. In the House, no plans to push the measure again were in place from Michael Bileca, chairman of the Choice & Innovation Subcommittee and a former sponsor of parent trigger legislation. In addition, he insisted he was not aware of any other lawmaker who had such plans.