by Félix Pérez
Hollywood thunders over the hill on a white charger, to the rescue. The damsel in distress: “parent trigger” laws touted as a silver bullet for struggling public schools but often the foot in the door sought by out-of-state, for-profit charter school owners who want to cash in on taxpayer dollars.
With the September release of Won’t Back Down, Tinseltown is stepping in where corporate mouthpieces, for-profit education companies, ill-informed politicians and pseudo-education reformers have been coming up short, most recently in Florida.
Starring an Oscar winner and two Oscar nominees, the movie, hope corporate education reformers and privatizers, will lend legitimacy to a movement that has generated bitter feelings and turned schools and communities against one another.
In theory, parent trigger laws allow parents who are dissatisfied with the way a school is being run to turn it into a charter school, replace the staff, or even shut it down, if 51 percent of the school’s families agree.
In practice, however, corporate-funded front groups have gamed the law and manipulated parents into choosing a particular for-charter school operator whose primary motivation, just as with any business, is profits.
In Florida, parent trigger legislation went down in a last-minute defeat in March after angry parents, namely moms, gave lawmakers an earful about what they called the corporatization of public schools.
At the time, Mindy Gould of the Florida PTA, said this: “This isn’t about empowering parents. This is about handing over the neighborhood school to a private, for-profit corporation.”
Kathleen Oropeza, a mom and co-founder of Florida-based Fund Education Now, wrote: “We do not support this corporate empowerment bill that uses a parent’s love to “pull the trigger” and pass all that they hold dear into the hands of a for-profit corporation eager for every child’s per pupil funding dollars for themselves.”
Florida is one of 20 states that is considering or has considered parent trigger laws. California, Texas, Connecticut and Ohio are among states that now permit a trigger process.
In Michigan, a version of parent trigger cleared the state Senate Education Committee last fall and is awaiting a floor vote. One of the well-funded groups there pressuring legislators to pass the law is Students First, which played a leading role in Florida and is run by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor implicated in a test cheating scandal.
What can you do?
- Get informed. Read and share this one-pager on what research says are the best approaches to parental engagement in schools. View and share the powerpoint “Power to the Parents: How Florida Parents Defeated the Parent Empowerment Act” (trigger bill).
- Be a trusted messenegr. Let others know the movie is a highly fictionalized and oversimplified treatment of a subject — education reform — that requires solutions based on genuine parental and community engagement with educators and administrators.
- Get involved when parent trigger legislation comes to your community or state.