Putting Education Reform To The Test

Explaining Florida’s ‘Parent Trigger’

Florida Senate

State Sen. Bill Montford predicts the bill will not be "earth-shaking."

The so-called “parent trigger” bill is expected to be the most controversial piece of education legislation in Tallahassee this year.

House and Senate panels gave initial approval to the proposals, HB 1191 and SB 1718, yesterday.

But what does a “parent trigger” do? And how does this bill work? And why do people support and oppose it?

We’ve got those answers covered.

The parent trigger was first proposed in California in an effort to win a federal education grant. Parents at a chronically poor-performing Compton elementary school were the first to test the law, according to the L.A. Times.

The parents wanted to convert McKinley Elementary School to a charter school. California’s law allowed the change if more than half of parents voted in favor of the change.

The campaign was marked by claims of intimidation on both sides, the Times reported, and parents’ signatures were scrutinized for authenticity. The petition was eventually defeated in court for technical reasons.

Connecticut approved a version of the parent trigger last year after a bitter political fight.

Florida’s version was amended before Tuesday’s committee votes. The bill follows federal “turnaround school” guidelines. Here’s the basics:

  • The trigger only kicks in after a school has earned a failing federal rating three years in a row.
  • At that point parents can opt for one of four options: Replacing the principal and adding professional training; replacing staff and administration; converting to a charter school; or closing the school.
  • Once parents choose and option, the school board can submit an alternative plan if they disagree. The state board of education would decide which plan would have the most positive impact on students.
  • The bill also reiterates that parents can review a teacher’s evaluation a year after its completion. If a student has a teacher rated “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” in a subject, the student can not be placed in a low-performing teacher’s classroom for that same subject a second year.

The bill has come under fire from some education activists who argue the parent trigger would allow public school facilities to be turned over to charter schools and for-profit operators.

Supporters, including a foundation started by former Gov. Jeb Bush, argue the bill gives parents more control over their kids’ education.

The bill still faces committee and floor fights in both houses. Sen. Bill Montford, D-Apalachicola and director of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, voted for the bill Tuesday, but said he thought it could face constitutional challenge.

“I’m not so sure that this will be as earth-shaking as some will think,” he said. “The school districts have already attempted a number of measures to get parents involved.”


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