'Parent Trigger' Bills in Florida Would Change Rules for Failing Schools

 
Legislation that would allow a majority of parents to demand changes in a persistently failing school is stirring debate in Florida. 

Michael Bileca, a sponsor of the House version of the so-called "parent trigger" legislation, says it will empower parents.  The Republican  told the Orlando Sentinel : "It gives parents a stronger voice in the direction of the schools that are chronically failing — the direction of the schools that need intervention." 

That's not how teachers see it. They see it as a veiled attempt to push more charter schools — privately managed schools run with public dollars — in a state that already has hundreds of them. "If parents have children in low-performing schools they already have a lot of power," Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, told Stateline. Parents can already move their children to charter schools, magnet schools or better performing schools, he said, and his organization opposes the legislation. "This is something that's being driven by the charter organizations." 

The Florida PTA and other parent groups also oppose the legislation, according to the Miami Herald , saying that it will ultimately take away resources from public schools. But the bill is a top priority of former Governor Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, which supports more charter schools and the state's peformance pay plan for schools and teachers. 

Districts are already required to make changes at the worst performing schools. The options include removing the principal, hiring a private management company, or converting to a charter school model. The new legislation, which has passed the committee stage in both the House and Senate, would apply to districts where such interventions have already taken place, and allow a majority of parents to demand a different turnaround option if the one chosen by the district isn't perceived to be working. 

California, Texas and Mississippi all have similar legislation on the books, while a number of other states, including Connecticut, Indiana and Michigan, considered similar bills last year. The idea seemed to be losing some steam , according to Education Week , as evidenced by a number of legislative failures. And the nation's first use of the trigger at the local level, in Compton, California, is stuck in the courts. But national advocates are hopeful that success in Florida can restore momentum to the movement. 

"There's a lot of energy," says Linda Serrato, a spokeswoman for Parent Revolution, a California-based organization which pushed the first "parent trigger" law in its own state and has since been involved in legislative efforts across the country. 

Parent Revolution was founded by Steve Barr, who also founded Green Dot Schools, a California charter school operator. But Serrato says the goal of the legislation isn't just to create more charters. 

"Right now, it's teachers and parents who negotiate," she says, "and parents aren't included."
 
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