Florida Republicans Resurrect 'Parental Trigger' Bill, Creating Another Pathway to Privatize K-12 Schools


During the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions, the most controversial piece of education legislation in Florida was the so-called “parent trigger” bill.

Passage of “parent trigger” would have allowed a majority of parents at chronically failing schools to vote on a method to restructure their neighborhood school, including options to replace the staff and administration, convert to a charter school or close the school. For two legislative sessions in a row, significant opposition by essentially every major parent group in Florida led to defeat of “parent trigger” despite its powerful supporters, including former governor Jeb Bush. At the time, critics complained “This law is about pushing Jeb Bush’s education agenda, and little else.”

This session, Representatives Chris Latvala and House Education Chair, Michael Bileca, have sponsored another Jeb Bush endorsed bill, HB5105, which is being referred to as the “School of Hope” Legislation. Via HB5105, schools earning a grade of “D” or “F” for three years or more would be required to undergo a “turnaround option”: close the school and send students elsewhere, hire an outside management company or convert to a charter school, a so-called “School of Hope.” The bill eliminates the previously most used “turnaround” option, which was district managed. If passed, the bill will take effect July 1, 2017, requiring 115 currently identified, persistently low performing Florida Public Schools to choose closure or some form of privatization.

Does it sound familiar: legislating the privatization of “failing” public schools? This time, it seems like they have merely removed the parents from the “parent trigger.” And, by removing the option of a district managed turnaround option, this bill will force persistently low performing schools to close or become privatized. Like the previous “parent trigger”, this bill is about pushing a political agenda and little else. And the House has set aside $200 million education tax dollars to further this agenda.

  • Should it matter that when the House Education Committee workshopped strategies to “Close the Opportunity Gap”, the only invited speakers were from charter networks (KIPP, Uncommon and GreatHearts)? Should it matter that the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee only scheduled charter chains to speak during its workshop addressing “innovative” ways to close the achievement gap (Basis, Achievement First,IDEA, SEED)? Why not hear about successful district managed turnaround plans?
  • Should it matter that House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has made this bill a House priority, is married to a lawyer who founded a successful Pasco County’ Classical Preparatory (charter) School which is planning an expansion?
  • Should it matter that Rep. Manny Diaz Jr, who has been an outspoken proponent of this legislation (claiming “it is our moral responsibility to make this move and provide this option for our kids”), is employed by Florida’s largest charter chain, Academica?
  • Should it matter that the Florida Department of Education has repeated raised the bar and changed the School Grades calculations, which has potentially masked improvements and/or achievement of students in these so-called “failing” schools? In 2015, Commissioner Pam Stewart celebrated Florida ranking 7th in the nation in student achievement and reported that students in Florida who receive free and reduced lunches outperform those who receive free and reduced lunches in all other states. Is it possible these schools may have made significant gains that are unappreciated by the current accountability system?
  •  Should it matter that school grades can be shown to be a reflection of the socioeconomic status of the student body? Researchers have been able to predict school grades based on US census data alone. For more information, click here.
  • Should it matter that the FSA was never evaluated for fairness, reliability or validity for at risk sub populations of students, including low socioeconomic level, minorities and English Language Learners, the very kinds of students overrepresented in these chronically underperforming schools?

And finally, should it matter that charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools and often perform worse? Sometime, charters appear to do better because they can control the types of students they choose to serve. And THIS may explain why, even when Speaker Corcoran is dangling $200 million under their noses, successful charter networks appear to be uninterested in becoming Florida’s “Schools of Hope”.

When Politico asked if HB5105’s incentives would compel Speaker Corcoran’s targeted high performing charter networks to become Florida’s “Schools of Hope”, their answers highlight a major “secret” that contributes to these charter’s high rates of “success”: “The programs aren’t meant to serve all students in a community.”

“Some operators said they don’t engage in what’s known in education jargon as “turnaround” — efforts to rapidly improve student performance in chronically failing schools. They might be able to open new schools in those communities, but they warned they wouldn’t be able to serve all the students there. That’s because they open their schools one grade at a time or have specialized niche models designed for a small number of students or ones who are academic high achievers. Further, they don’t want to go into communities that don’t want them and enter into contentious local political battles, they said.”

Regardless of whether the charter networks can actually be enticed to Florida’s neediest neighborhoods and serve ALL the students there, many question whether this is even a workable solution. As outlined in the Miami Herald:

“But some Democrats, school board members, public school teachers and parents caution that the solution isn’t as simple as bringing in out-of-state operators to run brand-new schools that could essentially replace languishing neighborhood schools.

The problems are far more complex than who the teacher in a classroom is or which principal leads a school, they say; it’s generational and systemic poverty that plagues these students — who are most often black or Hispanic and who also face racial and geographic disparities in their educational opportunities.

“When you look at these communities where these schools are, there are some common threads to all of them: Poverty, you have kids having kids, and a lot of times these kids don’t know how to be parents,” said Port St. Lucie Democratic Rep. Larry Lee, who said he grew up in such a community.

“We’re bringing in external forces in these school districts and asking them to turn it around,” he said. “Sometimes I, as a black man, go back into the area where I grew up and, at times, even I am not accepted because they say, ‘You don’t live here anymore.’ You need people in those communities to buy in.”

Miami Democratic State Rep Kionne McGhee didn’t mince words: “This bill, in my humble opinion, creates a separate but unequal system” that “runs afoul” of the state and U.S. Constitutions.” House Democrats argue “the money could be better spent on bringing innovations to traditional public schools, rather than picking “winners and losers” and propping up a specific few nonprofit charter operators, whose “schools of hope” could essentially replace failing neighborhood schools.”

Roger Williams, in a stinging Florida Weekly op-ed, delineates how privatization, especially when applied to public education, allows lawmakers to shirk their real responsibilities. “It no longer means tightening up, if it ever did. Instead, it means giving the ball to contractors and letting them run with it because we can’t or don’t want to.” He concludes:

“Here’s the point I hope every voter and every legislator remembers: Public education, free to students, is the greatest public glory of the United States.

Public education is the magnificent promise of America that says to every child ever born or raised within our borders: “You will have a decent chance because we are all, all of us Americans, your parents. We are all, all of us Americans, your advocates.”

Public education is our most ambitious space venture, our most formidable army, our most powerful defense against anything, natural or manufactured.

Giving public money to any private schools, even when they’re called charter and even if they’re wonderful places, is a betrayal of that promise.”

It is time for all those who spoke out against the Parent Trigger 5 years ago to speak out against “Schools of Hope.”  HB5105 is moving through the House along party lines. SB796 has been amended to contain the HB5105 “School of Hope” language. The Senate Education Committee may hear the bill as early as April 17th. (You can also send emails with one click by following the links here).

The time to call is NOW.

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