Update: "Parent Trigger" Fight Gears Up For Round Two

Feb 13, 2013

Update 5:18 pm:   The so-called parent trigger bill is back again after a narrow defeat in the Florida Senate last year, when several Republicans joined with Democrats to vote against the measure, resulting in a tie.

This time around many of those Republicans are gone due to term limits. They’ve been replaced by more conservative members of the party, like Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who is sponsoring this year’s parent trigger bill. Stargel, who moved from the House to the Senate, replaced outspoken Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the Republicans who voted against the parent trigger. 

“I think the policy of this bill is the right policy. To get parents involved and have a say on what happens to their child at a failing public school is the right policy," Stargel said. 

Last year’s fight over the parent trigger pitted groups like the Florida Education Association and the PTA against others like the powerful Foundation for Florida’s future—the school choice group created by former Governor Jeb Bush. The Foundation even brought the California-based Parent Revolution, which started the parent trigger movement to lobby state lawmakers. The Foundation’s legislative director Joanna Hassell disagrees with opponents who say the bill allows for-profit charter schools to take over public schools.

“Why would a charter school company want to spend six months gathering petitions to turn into a school board in the hope that two years later, they might be selected. When Florida law has a charter school application process that’s much simpler, and it’s a less expensive path taht would have a more favorable outcome?”  Hassell said.

But opponents like the public school support group Fund Education Now say parents told lawmakers last year that they don’t want the bill. The organization’s Kathleen Oropeza says just because there are now more people in the Senate who might vote in favor of the bill, doesn’t mean her group and others are backing down:

“When we started talking about parent trigger last year we were told it was pretty much done. If you go through life thinking something is insurmountable so you shouldn’t even try, you’ll never know what effect you may have. So we’re doing what we think is right for our kids."

Senator Stargel’s SB 862 calls on schools to notify parents when a teacher is out-of-field and  give parents easier access to teacher evaluations, things already in law. The "parent trigger" part would kick in when a school receives an “F” grade. Parents would be able to sign petitions weighing in on a district’s options, which include reassigning students, closure, or conversion into a charter school. No action would be done if a school manages to raise its grade, but if it doesn’t, the bill calls on the local school board to take parent’s views into account in their decision.

Statement from Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami:

“We should focus our efforts on improving public schools, not giving up on them by handing the keys to a for-profit corporation,” said Senator Smith. “Our teachers, our children, and our public schools are not for sale.”

“This year’s bill much like last year’s bill has once again failed to get input from our parents and students from around the state. Parent Revolution and Sen.Stargel are once again trying to use a California fix for a Florida problem that does not exist,” Sen. Bullard said.

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A controversial bill allowing parents in failing public schools a say on what to do with failing public schools  is back again this year.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, has filed SB 862, which calls on schools to notify parents when a teacher is teaching out-of-field. It would also give parents access to teacher evaluations. But the biggest part of the bill, called the "parent trigger" would allow, "parents who have a student in a public school that is  implementing a turnaround option may petition to have a particular turnaround option implemented."

According to Florida Statute 1008.33, thee "turnaround" options for schools labeled as "chronically failing" include:

1. Convert the school to a district-managed turnaround school; 2. Reassign students to another school and monitor the progress of each reassigned student; 3. Close the school and reopen the school as one or more charter schools, each with a governing board that has a demonstrated record of effectiveness; 4. Contract with an outside entity that has a demonstrated record of effectiveness to operate the school; or 5. Implement a hybrid of turnaround options set forth in subparagraphs 1.-4. or other turnaround models that have a demonstrated record of effectiveness.

The idea for the parent trigger law comes from California, where about three years ago that state’s legislature passed a similar bill giving parents in a failing school a majority vote on whether to turn it into a charter school.  The group Parent Revolution created the original parent-trigger bill and lobbied hard for its passage in Florida last year.

But a bipartisan group of Senators voted against the measure and it failed last year in a tied vote. Many Republicans who voted against the measure last year, like Senators Paula Dockery, Mike Fasano and Evelyn Lynn-- are no longer in the Senate, and have been replaced by more conservative Republicans, like Sen. Stargel, the bill's sponsor this year, who replaced Paula Dockery.

Check back later on for more updates to this story.