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Parent trigger would be shooting blanks

Opinion of the
Bradenton Herald
Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: March 26, 2013 at 04:56 PM

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett has warned that “parent trigger” bills expected to pass the Legislature are flawed because they are “too bureaucratic.” He's right, but not for the reason he states.

Parent trigger laws, despite the name, have nothing to do with guns. But they are a weapon in the scheme to privatize public education. And the parent trigger fad mimics in-your-face laws the National Rifle Association makes lawmakers pass to show who's boss.

Similarly, parent trigger laws force lawmakers to kneel down before alleged education reformers like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. His Foundation for Excellence in Education, which takes money from for-profit charter schools, is a major advocate for parent trigger. The bills allow parents of children in “failing” schools to change the school's structure, including an option to turn the school over to a private charter school company.

School boards already have that option and others, including the option to close the school, hire a management company or convert the school to a district-run “turnaround” school.

The parent-trigger bill that passed a House education subcommittee last week, House Bill 867, would let parents recommend which option to exercise, assuming 51 percent sign a petition.

Parent trigger would have little effect in Florida, for now. Fewer than three dozen failing schools would be covered. But for-profit charter companies, which gave $2 million in Florida's last election, are eager for the precedent. Their goal is to make for-profit charter schools the norm.

There is no evidence parent-approved plans would do a better job of turning around low-performing schools. But the goal isn't to improve schools; it's to improve the bottom line of for-profit charters.