TALLAHASSEE -- For weeks, it seemed, few parents in Florida supported the so-called parent trigger bill.
And then, a video began circulating in the Capitol.
The video, featuring South Florida moms praising the legislation, was attributed to a mysterious grassroots group known as the Sunshine Parents. But it was actually produced by Parent Revolution, the California-based advocacy group that has been using its considerable resources and political heft to promote the legislation nationwide, Parent Revolution confirmed Friday.
Emails to the Sunshine Parents were not returned.
Doubt has also been cast on a petition allegedly signed by more than 1,200 supporters of the parent trigger proposal. Three people whose names appear on the petition told The Herald/Times they never signed it.
“It’s sad that they are resorting to these tactics,” said Rita Solnet, a Palm Beach County mother whose non-profit organization Parents Across America opposes the parent trigger bill. “But it puts it all in perspective. It’s people from outside Florida and outside our schools who support this bill. It’s not the real parents.”
The parent trigger bill hits the Senate floor on Monday. It has already passed in the House.
The controversial proposal would enable a majority of parents to demand sweeping changes at failing public schools, including having a charter school management company step in. It would also require principals to notify parents when their kids are assigned to “ineffective” or out-of-field teachers for two consecutive years, and provide information about virtual-education alternatives.
Supporters, led by former Gov. Jeb Bush and former D.C. Schools Chief Michelle Rhee, say the legislation would empower parents to play a more active role in the public school system. But opponents say it would give for-profit education companies the opportunity to take over vulnerable schools. They point to California, where efforts to pull the trigger have played out amid allegations of parent coercion and petitions with fraudulent signatures.
“Our members are concerned about how this bill will break apart our communities,” said Mindy Gould, who heads the Florida PTA’s legislative committee.
In addition to Florida PTA, parent groups lined up against the bill include Fund Education Now, 50th No More and Parents Across America. The NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens oppose the legislation, too.
For weeks, the groups have blasted lawmakers with thousands of emails, and traveled to Tallahassee to testify against the proposals. They have challenged legislators to find any parents who support the measure.
The high-quality Sunshine Parents video and a shorter “sneak peek” surfaced last week, along with a host of questions about who had produced it.
In the videos, the Sunshine Parents described themselves as “an active and engaged group of parents throughout Florida that are seeking to transform the schools in their communities to serve all children.” But they offered no other information about the organization. The Sunshine Parents have no public online presence, and haven’t made themselves known around the Capitol.
The videos circulated in an email that linked to a petition by Bush’s education think tank, the Foundation for Florida’s Future. But foundation spokeswoman Allison Aubuchon said there was “no formal association” between Bush’s organization and Sunshine Parents.