By Paula Dockery
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.
The “trigger” really is a potentially unreliable grade assigned to a teacher 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 has previously failed. The Florida Legislature, for instance, voted the bill down in the 2012 session.
Interestingly, parents are organizing, again, against the bill. In fact, every major parent and teacher organization has come out strongly against passage, including PTA, NAACP, LULAC, FEN, FEA.
California’s experiment with the new law has been less than promising. Parents who wanted to rescind their petitions were not permitted to. Parents who felt misled or who 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 vested interests in doing what is in doing what best suits every child and also have the tools to do it.
Current law already sets forth a procedure for districts to deal with failing and low-performing schools including:
* Converting a school to a district-managed turnaround school.
* Reassigning students to another school.
* Closing the school and reopening it as one or more charters.
Proponents’ efforts to paint this effort as altruistic should be met with cynicism. Not only does it not address a need in a sincere manner, there is more wrong with this bill:
* Charter schools are not silver bullets.Compare failure rates.
* More tax dollars get diverted to for-profit of private institutions instead of into the classroom.
* The petition process distracts school personnel from their primary duty of teaching.
* Its implementation would be in the midst of changing evaluation process and testing
Parents are not asking for it; procedures already exist; Florida Legislature has already voted it down; and every major parent or teacher association opposes, evidence of petitioners’ remorse in California where it has passed. Still, here it is again.
Why? Why are legislators so anxious 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. But if they insist on pushing this misleading effort, I offer a substitute plan:
Sixty percent of students need to be represented by a parent. That parent must come to the school to sign a petition and show identification.
If parents differ on the issue, their vote would not count (since they effectively cancel each other out). If the 60 percent threshold is reached, a vote will be scheduled and will require 60 percent of total eligible votes for approval.
Under this scenario, it would truly be a grassroots effort rather than a special interest and lobbyist effort. A simple, fair and transparent process would replace a complex and slanted process. But, most importantly, parents would honestly be empowered to work with teachers and administrators to do what’s best for their children and for the community as a whole.
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. She can be reached by email here.