No Amendment Can Fix Parent Trigger

By Rita Solnet

Magicians call it misdirection.

Salesmen call it diversion.

Senators call it Amendments.

Some Florida legislators are well versed in the David Copperfield method of passing hotly contested bills. Using sleight of hand, they slap on an amendment and then create the illusion that – abracadabra – all concerns are resolved, all opposition is appeased.

Florida’s controversial Senate Bill 862, the Parent Empowerment bill, would create a parent trigger law enabling parents to collect signatures from 51% of the school population to shut down a neighborhood school and convert it to a private, for profit entity.

Last week Senator David Simmons pulled a last minute amendment out of his top hat and presented it as the remedy to what ails the controversial ‘parent trigger’ bill.

Simmons didn’t study magician banter, I suppose, because when confronted with reality vs perception, he stumbled over his words saying he needed to ‘clean up the amendment’s language.’   It was sort of like shoving half the rabbit back in the hat and saying to the audience, ‘let me try that again!’

The existing bill gives the final trigger say to the State Board of Education.  Simmons’ well-intentioned amendment alleges that the school district will be the final arbiter.  To those in the trenches, this is simply more hocus pocus since local school boards were already stripped of final say on all charter school applications and appeals. The Florida Board of Education controls all appeals and all charter-related issues. No amendment to this bill trumps or changes that.

Despite the diversionary tactic of perceived local control, the bill’s significantly troubled clauses haven’t vanished:

1)  Foreign nationals may own and operate these charter schools.
2)  Converted charters would be exempt from class size laws.
3)  Teacher evaluations would be released to parents. (in contrast to SB 736)
4)  Districts are mandated to promote virtual school teachers over “out of field” or “ineffective” teachers.
5)  A virtual school teacher’s evaluation cannot be obtained to compare to public school teacher evaluations.

These weighty clauses represent major changes. They override existing laws and transform how the district interacts with parents on student placements.  However, these clauses must be tucked deep inside the large tuxedo pockets of the bill’s sponsor because they haven’t been discussed in any hearing I’ve witnessed.

The bill’s sponsors have been unsuccessful in escaping the ugly truth of parent trigger too. Pesky facts pop up in op-eds authored by both Florida Democrats and Republicans who oppose this bill and throw off their “this-is-no-big-deal” illusion.

Parent Trigger Undeniable Facts:
1)  Trigger failed in two attempts thus far.
2)  Trigger inflicts divisiveness upon communities resulting in mistrust and lack of cooperation.
3)  Trigger resulted in families moving away from California towns.
4)  Trigger is a one-way street with no provision for parents to re-convert back to a public school.
5)  Trigger leaves parents less-empowered with fewer avenues.

We already know what parent trigger does to communities. In the two California towns that were pushed by Parent Revolution to pull the trigger – one failed miserably, and the other entered its 21st month in litigation. Compton, California  became such a divided community that families moved away.  And, Adelanto’s marathon litigation resulted in parents fighting parents, students fighting students. How’s that for unsolicited testimonials?

Did ‘local control’  help the hostility inflicted upon two disparate California towns?  No.

The trigger concept is marketed under the guise of “Choice.”  However, it more accurately represents “Chance” in the form of risk for parents. Charters offer many promises to parents but none of them offer guarantees of academic improvement or sustained achievement. In fact, in Florida, none of them can point to sustained, improved performance either.

Florida charters have an incredibly disproportionate number of F-rated schools. And, 47% of Florida charter schools close. The lack of stability and lack of quality education currently being delivered by Florida’s charters is intolerable.

Florida today has over 600 charter schools – more than Texas. When you consider that Texas has 4.8 million students vs. Florida’s 2.64 million, one must ask, has Florida gone too far?

The lack of fiscal responsibility by our legislature to permit this to continue is unfathomable.

Where’s the proposed legislation to put the brakes on this runaway charter train headed for a cliff?  I’ll support that.

Where’s the amendment that responsibly proposes fixing the 600+ charters Florida already has?  I’ll support that, too.

It’s no wonder why other GOP-governed states such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and Georgia quashed parent trigger bills recently. Their legislators listened to constituents over charter backed foundations.

Parent Trigger is a bad bill.  Harry Houdini couldn’t fix this bill!  No amendment can fix it either.

The greatest magic act of all, however, lies before the bill’s sponsors. That is – they must make over 1M Florida citizens who oppose this bill disappear.

I’m still here. The Florida PTA is still here. The FL NAACP is still here as is the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Women’s Political Caucus, and the League of Women Voters, and Parents Across America, and Fund Education Florida and well, here, count them.

Note to Florida Legislators:

There are over 1M Florida citizens – parents, grandparents, business owners, taxpayers and voters who vehemently oppose the divisiveness that parent trigger inflicts upon communities.  Represent your constituents please.

Rita M. Solnet

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc