As media websites throughout Florida told of the end of the notorious “parent trigger” bill for this year, one state senator nailed the problem — the law already allows parents to get involved in fixing failing public schools, but few of them bother to do so.
The speaker was Sen. Bill Montford, a respected lawmaker and executive director of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “The issue is, ‘How do we get parents interested in the options available to them?’ ” he was quoted as saying on Tallahassee.com, the website of The Tallahassee Democrat.
He’s right. Parents already have options in state law that empower them. They don’t need another law. They need to know how to use what is already on the books.
The “parent trigger” bill was before the Senate on Tuesday of last week. Its official title was “Parent Empowerment in Education.” The gist of the bill would have given parents the right to petition a school board to remedy their children’s failing school through an option selected by the parents, including converting it to a for-profit charter school.
The bill failed, 20 yeas and 20 nays. The House bill passed in early April, and supporters were hoping the Senate would adopt it and Gov. Rick Scott would sign it. [Later, a provision of the bill that would prevent students from having unsatisfactory teachers for two years in a row was appended to another bill that would hold charter schools more accountable for their management and finances. That bill was passed by both chambers and sent to the governor.]
The bill’s buildup made it appear that this kind of parent involvement in creating a school’s educational plan was new. It’s not.
Florida’s education-reform law in the early 1980s brought us School Advisory Councils (SACs). Educators and parents must work side-by-side to develop their school’s educational plan and work with the district and the school board to implement it and monitor it. Parents have a huge voice and a seat at the big table.
But yet, an Associated Press article on Tuesday quoted Sen. Aaron Bean saying, “Give parents a right to be involved with their school. How hard is that?”
It’s not hard at all, senator.
In addition to SACs (we’ve known some very vocal parent members), Florida law gives the parents of students in a failing school a choice. They can move their child to a “better” school with transportation provided at the district’s expense. A district gets additional resources to help turn an F-school around, too.
St. Johns County is home to the No. 1 school district in the state. There are no failing schools, and the parent trigger would not have affected it, School Superintendent Joe Joyner said. The district serves 32,000 students and has been ranked, “First overall out of 67 counties on FCAT for four years in a row.”
Joyner and the school board opposed the parent trigger bill because the elements of it are already in law. Joyner said it is a “misnomer” for lawmakers to think that parents aren’t involved in SACs. Parents relish that opportunity, believe me.
The Legislature needs to heed Sen. Montford’s urging to find ways to get parents interested in options the state already offers them. Perhaps, the parents on St. Johns County’s School Advisory Councils can enthuse others parents around the state, too.
Margo C. Pope worked for The St. Augustine Record and The Florida Times-Union for 42 years covering education, city and county government, tourism and open government issues. She retired in August after five years as The Record’s editorial page editor.