Thursday, March 7, 2013
Florida legislators plan to exploit parents to advance lawmakers’ privatization crusade
Florida legislators plan to exploit once again the good intentions of parents and their desire for a fine education for their children to advance lawmakers’ privatization crusade.
In their effort to manipulate the public, legislators are promoting converting traditional public schools to charter schools as a way to empower parents.
The Parent Empowerment in Education bills would allow parents with children in low-performing schools to petition to have a traditional neighborhood school transformed into a charter school, among other options. Might sound fine except parents would not have any major role in the educational process, like choosing the school staff, the subjects in the curriculum, the disciplinary norms, or the school dress code.
Once 51 percent of parents sign a petition, there would be no going back, as long as they obtain authorization from the district’s school board. Or a final determination from the State Board of Education, whose goal of expanding charters is on record.
The advocates’ premise is that parents should have a choice. Yet the “choice” is limited to simply transferring taxpayer funds from public schools to the coffers of the for-profit industry that administers charters. Then the parents’ role is over.
The bills, best known as the “Parent-Trigger Act,” are similar to those that failed last year after dozens of buses filled by parents traveled to the state Capitol to confront the powerful school-choice lobby. They are sponsored by our own Miami-Dade Republican Reps. Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca in the House, and by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
The legislation’s other options include contracting with an outside entity to administer failed schools, reassigning students to other schools and monitoring their progress, and converting the school to a district-managed turnaround school.
The hullabaloo that is sure to emerge around the issue is also a way to distract the public from the Legislature’s reluctance to invest in public schools. Florida already is at the bottom of public school funding nationwide.
When all is said and done, the biggest losers would be the students, who would be left with fewer resources, including the racial and ethnic minority students who make up the majority of Miami-Dade’s student body, and of Florida’s. Failing schools are often located in high poverty areas; children in these schools often live in communities with a high level of unemployment and a range of health and safety challenges. Their schools usually need the most resources and their communities are the ones most in need of stable community assets such as a traditional public school.
While traditional public school districts must accept all students for enrollment, charter schools can set academic and behavior requirements that lead to expulsion of students, segregated schooling, and exclusion of children with special needs.
That explains why civil rights organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the NAACP have joined this battle. Far from empowering parents, they say, the parent trigger process creates discord among parent groups and gives decision-making power to the prevailing group of parents for public dollars. Meanwhile, the rest of the school district’s taxpayers are unfairly excluded from the process.
Since last year, groups like the PTA and the Parent Leadership Councils (composed of parents of students learning English as a Second Language) have been against the trigger bills. These laws may allow parents to express their frustrations, but there’s no way to assure them that the remedy they propose will actually work. Authentic reform takes time and cooperation. It is not accomplished in a 30-day petition signing campaign.
Florida’s parent trigger bills invite predatory practices from profit-making companies. If armed with insight sufficient to predict which schools will be up for grabs, the corporations could get a head start on petition signing, insert themselves into the school community and use publicity campaigns to persuade parents to sign petitions. The bills state that petitions signed before the 30-day notice period must be accepted. For-profit corporations would be prohibited from gathering signatures, but they might still finance a propaganda campaign.
Although many charter schools are successful and offer innovative models of teaching, there is no evidence that they are superior to traditional public schools. Parents can already vote to convert to charter status, and last week, parents at the Key Biscayne K-8 Center voted No. There also are federal turnaround school provisions that permit conversion. Where’s the need?
Do children benefit more when a school is run by companies beholden to stockholders, or by elected officials accountable to voters and taxpayers? If parents, teachers and education advocates are against the legislation, just who does want it?
Maybe former Gov. Jeb Bush has the answer.