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Parents Across America hails defeat of Florida’s Parent Trigger bill:
A victory of parents over forces that would privatize and profit from our public schools
“This was a victory for true parent empowerment. By working together with my colleagues in PAA and other grassroots parent groups, including Save Duval Schools, 50th No More, the Florida state PTA, Fund Education Now, and Testing is Not Teaching, we managed to beat the richly funded corporate reformers.”
Rita Solnet, Founding Member of Parents Across America
Public education and true parent empowerment were the winners after a “Parent Trigger” law died on the floor of the Florida State Senate on March 9, said Rita Solnet, a Florida parent activist and a founding member of the national organization Parents Across America, who worked with other parent groups from the state to defeat the bill. Solnet hailed the outcome as a triumph of parents over the forces that would privatize and profit from our public schools.
“I pray this defeat helps other states to avoid a similar attack on our public schools,” said Solnet, a Boca Raton businesswoman and a co-founder of PAA. “This was a victory for true parent empowerment. By working together with my colleagues in PAA and other grassroots parent groups, including Save Duval Schools, 50th No More, the Florida state PTA, Fund Education Now, and Testing is Not Teaching, we managed to beat the richly funded corporate reformers.”
The so-called Parent Empowerment in Education Act (SB 1718) was framed as allowing parents at a public school to vote to “turn around” their school by employing several options, including charter conversion. Yet very quickly, Florida parents realized that this measure, which died in the State Senate on a 20-20 bipartisan tie vote, represented yet another underhanded ploy by corporate reformers, including Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, to hand public schools over to private, for-profit operators. Many parents drove several hours, hired babysitters and missed time with their children to travel to Tallahassee to lobby against the bill.
In March 2011, Parents Across America released a position paper opposing “parent trigger” laws, based on the damaging impact of the California law. PAA members in California have closely followed the Parent Trigger saga there, and when the Florida legislation was first announced earlier this year, Solnet shared their concerns with other parent leaders, legislators and education officials in the state.
California passed the nation’s first parent trigger law in 2010. Since then, similar bills have been introduced in many states around the country, with language written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), an organization that promotes a right-wing agenda. But despite the misleading accounts of representatives from the astroturf organization Parent Revolution, flown in from California to testify before the Florida legislature, the law has never been used successfully in that state or anywhere else.
The Parent Trigger was first conceived by an organization called Parent Revolution, founded by a charter operator and funded by the Gates, Broad and Walton Family Foundations (the latter of Wal-Mart fame). The law squeaked through the California legislature in early 2010 but has had led to no school turnarounds. Instead, it has ignited chaos and controversy in the two communities where petition campaigns have been tried. In Compton, the effort collapsed amid allegations of fraud on both sides. In Adelanto, parents were asked to sign two different petitions, though only one, calling for charter conversion, was submitted to the authorities (LA Times, 2/19/12).
The outcome of the ensuring controversy is still up in the air, according to Caroline Grannan of San Francisco, a PAA member who has followed the situation closely. She concludes: “The divisive battles that the Parent Trigger law has sparked in California should cause parents and concerned citizens elsewhere to avoid similar legislation like the plague.”
PAA’s March 2011 position paper pointed out that while the organization “strongly supports true parent empowerment,” the Parent Trigger law “gives them no opportunity to choose among more positive reforms, and fails to promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up. In addition, the process creates huge potential for abuse, disruption and divisiveness to school communities.”
Rather than requiring parents to “trigger” a restrictive, damaging set of reforms, PAA supports real parent empowerment at the school level, as well as involvement in decision-making at the district, state, and national levels. More recently, PAA released a proposal on how authentic school-level improvement efforts can be achieved through local school councils made up of majority parent membership.