Education ‘trigger bill’ empowers for-profit corporate interests

First it was called the parent trigger bill but when that became a negative connotation, it was rebranded the “parent empowerment act.” Whew, that’s much better.

Unfortunately, it’s a misnomer: This bill does not empower parents. It empowers out-of-state corporate interests and their lobbyists to siphon Florida tax dollars away from our already underfunded public school system.

Interestingly, parents are organizing again against the bill. In fact, every major organization of parents and teachers has come out strongly against passage — PTA, NAACP, LULAC, FEN, FEA.

The “trigger” really is a potentially unreliable grade assigned to teachers based on their students’ combined performance on an ever-changing test. First, their job security was to be based on the FCAT results but the highly controversial and problem-plagued test is being phased out, and its replacement is the yet to be developed Common Core.

This same legislation is being pushed in at least 15 states, even in states where it previously failed. The Florida Legislature, for instance, voted the bill down in the 2012 session.

California’s experiment with a similar new law has been less than promising. Parents who wanted to rescind their petitions were not permitted to. Parents who felt misled or changed their minds were feeling anything but empowered.

Lawsuits and legal challenges have been costly and distracting.

The legislation creates a toxic environment of distrust instead of fostering an atmosphere of cooperation and coordination between the community and school personnel.

Any parent has the power to remove a child from a failing school. Florida already offers more choice than most other states (magnet schools, charter schools, vouchers, scholarships, virtual schools and home schooling). Additionally, school-based personnel, district personnel and locally elected school boards all have a vested interest in doing what is in the best interest of every child and the tools to do it.

The fact is, Florida law already richly empowers parents to help change their school. School Advisory Councils were established to provide a framework for parents, teachers and districts to find solutions together. Florida offers so much parental “choice” that we are a model for other states. Florida law sets forth clear procedures for districts to deal with failing and low-performing schools.

Proponents’ efforts to paint this effort as altruistic should be met with cynicism and concern.

So, how is the Parent Trigger good for our children?

• No parent group wants it.

• No track record of success.

• Needs lobbyists to run expensive campaigns in each state to promote passage.

• Discourages community collaboration.

• Ignores existing laws that already empower parents.

• Leads to expensive lawsuits and conflict.

• Teaches children that parents should see teachers and districts as adversaries instead of partners.

• Erodes taxpayers’ right to local control through the jurisdiction of duly elected school boards.

Why are legislators so eager to push through policy that is controversial, divisive and unsuccessful? This thinly veiled attempt to enrich private charter corporations in the name of empowering parents will do nothing positive to benefit our students but instead will become a self-fulfilling prophecy to further starve our public schools leading to more privatization of the nearly one-third of our state budget devoted to education.

Legislators should drop the whole complex, disruptive, divisive idea.

If you really want to empower parents, start listening to them.

Paula Dockery was term-limited as a Republican state senator from Lakeland after 16 years in the Florida Legislature.

© Florida Voices

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