When Florida’s parent trigger bill sadly failed on a 20-20 vote in the Senate last Friday, parents in the state’s worst performing schools lost an opportunity to change their schools, their lives, and their children’s lives for the better.
The debate seemed to turn mysteriously on fears of privatization through charter schools, even though converting the school to a charter was only one of four options parents could have elected under the legislation. Given that Florida already has many charter schools, I find it baffling why allowing parents access to this option was so threatening to the education establishment.
Fortunately, Florida still has options for parents who want to leave a failing school, but the demand for options such as a tax credit scholarship or a charter school exceeds the supply. To a large degree, though, these kinds of options are not really the point of parent trigger legislation. For most families, the ideal situation is a high-quality neighborhood school. This is particularly true for low-income families that struggle with juggling multiple jobs, child care and transportation.
If we believe that strong families, parents and neighborhoods are at the heart of American society, Florida just lost a precious opportunity to empower revitalization. No neighborhood is truly successful if its schools don’t work. The traditional education model strips away the authority of parents to do much about these schools when it simply assigns children to schools according to zip code. But because education is such a fundamental part of life, stripping away this power and authority has implications far beyond just education. It robs parents and families of a feeling that they have influence more broadly on their community.
That’s why parent trigger legislation is so important.
It restores the ability for parents to organize, collaborate, discuss and take meaningful and purposeful actions to improve their lives. Being able to influence directly how their children are educated and feeling responsible in a substantive way for the outcomes is transformative.
I fear what we witnessed Friday in Florida is the status quo fighting back against a reduction of their authority over families and parents. Let’s be frank: To every other part of public education, children function as a debit card — directly bringing in the cold, hard cash that keeps their jobs in place. Despite all the apparent concern about privatizing Florida schools, parents are the only group in public education without a financial conflict of interest. They just want what is best for their children and what will open the greatest access to the American Dream.
I wrote the nation’s first parent trigger law in California. I acted because I was frustrated with the lack of any urgency in turning around chronically underperforming and failing schools. As a Democratic senator, I was sick and tired of the status quo education interests dictating education policy — and of too many of my colleagues timidly succumbing to powerful political interests. Florida just demonstrated legislators can succumb on a bipartisan basis.
Nevertheless, I am confident this is not the final word on the parent trigger in Florida. Just look around the country at how parents are standing up, sadly in some cases even going to jail, for the right to educate their children. A Connecticut mother led the movement to pass the country’s second Parent Trigger Act. Parental empowerment groups may have made their first splash in the water in California, but they are appearing across the nation at an increasing pace, demanding to reclaim the authority and responsibility for their children’s education.
This is only a temporary setback.
Former California State Sen. Gloria Romero is the California state director of Democrats for Education Reform. In the senate, she was elected by her peers to serve as Senate Democratic Caucus Chair and as Senate Majority Leader—the first woman to ever hold that leadership position in the history of the California State Senate. She serves on the board of directors for The American Center for School Choice.