The House version passed with the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida's Future and another group headed by Michelle Rhee, former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor. The proposal gave parents whose children are in a “failing” public school the power to organize a petition drive in support of a school turnaround option.
The bill “pulled the trigger” for parents after a school received a failing grade and 50 percent plus one of the school parents signed a petition in support of one of three turnaround options:
-- Convert the school to a charter school managed by the district or private management company;
-- Put a corrective plan into effect, or
-- Close the school and transfer students to another school in the district.
Supporters saw the bill as a means of giving parents a voice in the running of a neighborhood school. Most Florida parent organizations, including the Florida PTA, disagreed and lobbied the Florida Senate to reject it.
The Senate version was thought to have a chance of passage because it had been amended to give school boards the power to reject the turnaround plan proposed by the parents. If the district chose a plan different from one proposed by parents, then the school board had to provide a report setting forth the reasons why the parent’s option was rejected and the reasons why another option was chosen.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Republican state Sens. Nancy Detert, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Rene Garcia, Jack Latvala, Greg Evers and Charlie Dean joined forces with the Democratic opposition.
School superintendents and boards need to focus on improving their failing schools, not finding new ways to close them or shuffle them off to for-profit charter school management companies.
Parents of students in failing schools don’t necessarily have the skill sets to develop corrective plans. That puts them at the mercy of those profiteers who have figured out how to make money off the public school system.
Few parents would vote to close schools in their neighborhoods. That leaves only one viable option for them -- charter school. The school board and superintendent of schools get to unload a school that is hurting their evaluations. They can pass the problem off on someone else.
The “Parent Trigger” was a bad idea with loads of unintended consequences. Once again, the Florida Senate saved the Legislature from itself.
Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.