Florida’s Parent Trigger Bill Divides Opinion

Opinion in Florida is divided over a proposed piece of legislation known as the "parent trigger", which aims to give parents of children in chronically failing schools greater power to force the schools to change — including the power to turn failing public schools into charter schools.

Under a bill that advanced this week in the House, parents would be given the power to dictate what happens to a failing school if improvement isn't recorded within a year. Parents can only activate this power if more than 50 percent of them sign on. From there they are able to work out a solution, given that they work within the parameters laid out in federal law and subject to Department of Education approval, writes the News Service of Florida.

Under current state law, "chronically failing" public schools in Florida are given several options to try and improve under a system put in place to meet the federal No Child Left Behind. Under this system, the process is driven by the school.

However, under the parent trigger, parents could dictate the changes that the school districts must make. These could include transferring students to other schools; closing the school and re-open it as a charter school with a new governing board running it; or contract with an outside management group to run it.

Senate bill sponsor Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, said:

"Anywhere in our communities where schools are struggling, parents have continued to come forward and say they want to have a role in the revitalization of a school and in making the education in their community better for all students, not just their own."

The parent trigger model began in California, where, for the last two years, parents are given a majority vote on whether failing schools can turn into a charter.

Critics believe the measures creates a division between parents against school districts.

Rita Solnet, founder of the group Parents Across America, which opposes such laws, said:

In California, "It wasn't a formula for school improvement at all, it was more a formula for shutting the school down and turning it over to private communities.

"When I say it was a catastrophic failure, it just created enormous hostility and conflict within communities."

A coalition of parent groups say the bill is really aimed at promoting charter schools and for-profit school management companies, writes Kathleen McGrory at the Miami Herald.

Mindy Gould, legislative chair for the Florida PTA, said:

"This isn't about empowering parents.

"This is about handing over the neighborhood school to a private, for-profit corporation."

Don Kearns, of the grassroots education advocacy group Support Dade Schools, said:

"Charter school operators are heavily invested in this type of thinking.

"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."

The bill would go further than the trigger, giving parents the freedom to view their children's teacher evaluations. They would also be made aware of the options offered by virtual instruction teachers with a better track record than the teacher in the school.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and The Foundation for Florida's Future executive director, Patricia Levesque, backs the plan:

"So often, parents are limited in how they can influence what goes on in the school system.

"This gives parents a legit seat at the bargaining table."

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