Posted In: Florida, Uncategorized
By Amanda Litvinov
This is the first in a series of three case studies. You can read the second part, “Kansas parents, educators keep lawmakers in check” here and part three, “Educators, parents achieve a ‘measure of progress’ in Seattle” here.
There are no better advocates for students than parents and educators. Who is in a better position to know where kids excel and where they struggle, and what the school community needs to help them succeed?
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But there are other adults who have an awful lot of influence on students’ lives too, including lawmakers and lobbyists.
For too long, self-proclaimed reformers have had the ear of policymakers at every level. They’ve sold their “reform” snake oil in the form of voucher schemes, unaccountable charter outfits and manic testing regimes that put schools in peril rather than provide meaningful assessment.
Enter the resistance, led by parents and educators speaking up on behalf of kids.
Parents in Adelanto, Calif., discovered Parent Revolution’s true intentions too late. This video tells their story.
“Parents and educators alike are really starting to realize that we don’t have a choice but to be activists on behalf of our kids, because of the people who are involving themselves in education,” said middle school science teacher Katie Hansen, who helped defeat bad bills in her home state of Florida. “If we don’t step up and do what we know is right for students and education, no one is going to.”
Hansen acknowledged that the education “reformers” with their corporate backers will always have more money. “But we can ‘out-people’ them,” she said. “With our numbers we have the power to make the phone calls, send the emails and keep the pressure on decision makers.
“We can never forget the power we have when parents and educators stand together.”
A well-funded group pushing a deceptive law that uses parents to gain political access and pave the way for unaccountable, for-profit charter schools sunk to new lows trying to get its law passed in Florida this spring. Parent Revolution produced and distributed a video under the guise of a sham grassroots organization called Sunshine Parents featuring testimonials on how “parent trigger” laws empower families.
Among the authentic parent groups of Florida, not a single one supported the passage of the “parent trigger” law.
“We battled parent trigger for two consecutive years, and we were constantly amazed at the financial lengths that Parent Revolution was able to go to in an attempt to legitimize their efforts,” said Kathleen Oropeza, Orlando mom and co-founder of the parent-driven public school advocacy group Fund Education Now. “The estimate is that they’ve spent $3 million in Florida trying to pass parent trigger over those two years.”
Teacher Katie Hansen was active in the fight both years, and as a local association president, motivated her members to stand up for their students as well.
“Our concern was that we didn’t want public schools and the public tax dollars that fund them to be turned over to a for-profit charter company, which then in turn doesn’t have to follow the same rules and expectations that our public schools are facing,” said Hansen.
When the bill hit, parent groups, the Florida Education Association and allies flew into action to organize their members, prompting parents and educators to use every resource at their fingertips—namely their phones and keyboards—to tell their elected leaders to kill the proposal, just as they had the year before. Some offices reported receiving thousands such calls.
Even though former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future applied its substantial resources to propping up the bill, in the end, the voices of parents and educators carried more weight with Florida lawmakers.
Katie Hansen admits she was a little relentless when it came to contacting her state representative, Travis Hutson.
“The poor man gave me his cell phone number, and I pretty much started a campaign to drive him insane—well, to lobby hard. Between Wednesday morning until the vote on Friday, we exchanged close to a thousand text messages. I told him that I have two children of my own and both as a parent and a teacher I know this is not what our schools need.”
Hutson was willing to listen to the 12-year teaching veteran, who had visited his back-home office in Palm Coast shortly after his election to establish a relationship. Once the legislative session began, Hansen and several colleagues made the three-hour drive to Tallahassee several times to make sure he heard their views.
When he sent an email the day of the vote explaining why he was voting against the parent trigger bill, he mentioned the hard work the educators had done to inform him of the law’s true intent.
“I always tell people that the ‘reformers’ are always going to have more money than us; we are teachers, for goodness sake,” said Hansen. “But we have the people and the power to put the pressure on if we all just make the calls and send the emails.”
Once again, it was the Florida Senate that ultimately killed the parent trigger bill, saving Florida students and families from the underhanded operators who would take advantage of parents in order to crack open public coffers for corporate privateers.
The key players in this story say relationship building was the key to their success.
“You have to build these relationships with your elected leaders back home, on your territory if you will. Don’t wait for the legislative session to start,” said Hansen. “My representatives know when I call that I represent 800 educators in my county, and that’s a big block of voters you are going to have to answer to come Election Day.”
Oropeza says as any coalition of partner groups grows, it takes planning and discipline to achieve success like the Florida parents and educators who have twice defeated the so-called ed reformers.
“Teachers spend as much time with our kids as we do, so we view them as our partners in so many ways in helping to make our children successful,” Oropeza told EducationVotes. “It’s a natural partnership that we’re fighting to preserve public education together. It’s up to every stakeholder to seize that common ground and stand on it together.
“If we don’t, something really magical will disappear from our country.”