Some questions before pulling the trigger
A juvenile display of rhetoric over a proposed parent trigger in the Florida Senate last Friday underscored a need to introduce some clear-headed thinking into a polarizing debate. While senators in the Sunshine State killed the trigger in their 20-20 split vote, similar bills remain under consideration in more than a dozen states. With that in mind, Choice Words has developed some legislative guidance for more informative inquiry.
I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask these questions about the trigger.
Really, these are just the questions I’ve had about the trigger, and I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask them. Eight moderate Republicans joined 12 Democrats to vote the trigger down, and nearly all of them were seized by the threat of “privatization” and for-profit charter schools. Not a word on whether parents can take on the burden of running a low-performing school or turning it over to a charter manager. Not a word on whether it should require more than a simple majority of parents to make such a drastic change. Legislators missed an opportunity to bring clarity to a discussion now ruled by passion. For the Senate Democratic minority leader, Nan Rich, the trigger did nothing but lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate takeover of public schools across Florida.”
For the legislator who wants to give serious consideration to a controversial idea that has yet to be tried successfully, I offer these questions to a bill sponsor:
- Why not enhance school choice? (If we’re really concerned with empowering parents, particularly those who are low-income, then shouldn’t we empower more with the ability to “vote with their feet?” On the Dropout Nation blog, RiShawn Biddle makes a good case that parents whose roots are grounded deeply in a neighborhood school need the power to turn it around, not walk away from it. But many others would avail themselves of more public and publicly funded private options given the chance.)
- If a trigger is preferred, why not require a supermajority of parents to pull it? (A 51 percent vote has the potential to breed factionalism among parents, pitting those who favor a charter takeover against those who just want more authority over, say, personnel issues. A two-thirds vote is required of many state constitutional referenda, and it would ensure a solid core of support for what happens after the trigger is pulled.)
- What support do parents receive once they’ve pulled the trigger? (Parent Revolution, the California-based parent “union” has the organizing power and bandwidth to help parents navigate through the thicket of school governance, should parents decide to take on hiring and firing decisions themselves. But that won’t be the case in every state.)
Can we establish greater transparency in the process before the trigger is pulled?
- Can we establish greater transparency in the process before the trigger is pulled? (The Los Angeles Times smartly called for an open forum in California where both sides can make their case and challenge arguments before parents sign anything. That kind of transparency would inherently limit the effectiveness of teachers unions organizing to get petitioning parents to reverse their support, as was alleged in Adelanto, California.)
- Can we
create an ombudsman’s office to investigate complaints of intimidation,
coercion or malfeasance? (Even with an open forum, there is still a risk
that either side would act irresponsibly or illegally outside the public eye.
That behavior might be curbed if parents had an independent office they could
turn to. Given that California
parents have only tried pulling the trigger twice, staffing such an office
wouldn’t cost a state much during an economic recovery.)
- Barring successful legislation establishing a trigger, why not create three-party contracts, with parents being the third party? (If the trigger is meant to bring parents to the bargaining table, why not literally bring them to the bargaining table, and open that process to the public.)
Are there more? Of course, Some opponents in Florida asked for a trigger that would prohibit for-profit charter operators from benefitting. Others asked to strengthen public school parent advisory councils. The PTA wanted to know why legislators were pushing a bill that its members rejected. But these were political statements dressed as legislative inquiries and did nothing to address the fundamental idea for the trigger in the first place – giving parents the democratic power to turn around a struggling school. The legislative remedies so far have been imperfect. Without a meaningful dialogue, they will remain so.
Category: Charters & Choice
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About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
May 16, 2013
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