Putting Education Reform To The Test

Parent Trigger Supporters Try To Debunk ‘Misconceptions’ About The Bill

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Patricia Levesque runs former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future. She says the parent trigger bill is about giving parents a legal seat at the table when changes are needed at a failing school.

Supporters of the parent trigger bill held a briefing with reporters today near the Capitol.

The briefing was hosted by Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future. The foundation was created by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The group is staunchly behind proposed legislation titled Parent Empowerment in Education (SB862/HB867). It’s much better known as the parent trigger bill.

Reps for the teachers union also showed up.

Levesque set out to debunk myths and misconceptions.

She said the first really important provision in the bill was inspired by legislation in Indiana, where Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett served as superintendent before losing his reelection bid last November.

“It’s a provision that says that schools need to make sure students are assigned to effective or highly effective teachers at least every other year,” Levesque said. “Schools that are low-income tend to have an over representation of teachers who” don’t meet that criteria.

The other really important part of the bill, she said, is the parent trigger – which gives parents the ability to pursue changes to a failing school.

“The school board has to implement a turnaround plan for those failing schools, and federal law outlines four different options that the school board gets to select from,” Levesque said. “All that this bill does is say that…parents can if they so choose – 50% plus one of them can indicate to the school board their recommendation for how they would like to see their child’s school turned around.”

The federal turnaround options are:

  1. Replace the principal and add professional training
  2. Bring in new staff and administration
  3. Convert to a charter school
  4. Close the school

“This formalizes the process so that parents have a legal place at the table when those discussions are occurring,” Levesque said.

The parents would be able to appeal if the school board rejects their recommendation.

Levesque also tried to take the emphasis off the charter school option.

“The most common argument is that there’s greedy for-profits that are out there that want to take over the school and that they’re going to keep the facilities in perpetuity,” Levesque said. “That just is not true.”

Levesque said 25 failing schools in Florida currently meet the criteria for changes under the proposed law. But parents can seek less drastic alternatives.

“One of the options that doesn’t get talked about a lot is in-district reform – turnaround that goes on in that school.” She said parents at failing schools in California have taken advantage of the deal.

“They wanted a computer lab, they wanted after-school tutoring, they wanted more assistance and intervention for English language learning students,” Levesque said. “It was the power of the law in California that gave them the ability.”

Parents at just three schools in California have chosen federal turnaround options. Pat DeTemple with Parent Revolution says most of the thousands of eligible schools were able to get in-district services.

Parent Revolution is the group behind the parent trigger law in California and promotes the law in other states.

DeTemple flew in from California to join the Tallahassee press conference.

“The biggest misconception surrounding the parent empowerment laws – parent trigger laws – is that it’s all about charters…a vast conspiracy to privatize education in America, serve for-profit entities,” DeTemple said. “That’s nonsense.”

He says it’s a fallacy that charter school operators are lined up waiting to take advantage of the law.

Levesque says the foundation supports the expansion of high quality charters and the closing of charter schools that receive two Fs.

“We want parents to have options because we believe those options serve as kind of a social justice issue in making sure that parents, particularly those who don’t have other options on their own, have some good high quality options for their children,” Levesque said.

Jeff Wright with the Florida Education Association was eager to give reporters his own briefing outside. He said Levesque and DeTemple presented half-truths, particularly about charters.

“If this is about social justice, don’t you think the NAACP of Florida and LULAC, who represents the Latin community, would be all over this issue? They’re opposed to it,” Wright said. “If you want them to improve, give them the resources at those schools that they need.”

“Why are we flying in an executive director of Parent Revolution from California to talk about Florida schools and parents in Florida and what they need?” asked Wright. “How in the hell does he know what parents in this state need? Let the parents here have that conversation.”

Wright said it’s clear that the charter option is the main vehicle of change being pushed by bill supporters.

“If you look at the email traffic that the foundation and Patricia has received from charter companies asking her to loosen the laws across the country to allow them to have more availability,” Wright said, “we have some reasoning to suspect there’s more to the story.”

The bill is ready for a hearing before the full House. The Senate hasn’t scheduled any committee hearings for it.


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