Amidst all the inflated rhetoric that defined the debate over Florida’s parent trigger bill, one persistent claim stood out as particularly jarring: the notion that low-income parents don’t know how to act in the best interests of their children.
That much of this language came from white, suburban parent activists makes it all the more disconcerting.
The parent trigger is “just a method for uninformed, inactive parents to be used to shut schools down,” said Rita Solnet, a Palm Beach County parent who co-founded Parents Across America.
“It uses a parent’s love to pull the trigger and pass all that they hold dear into the hands of for-profit corporations eager to peel off a chunk of every child’s per pupil funding for themselves,” said Linda Kobert, a co-founder of Fund Education Now.
After the parent trigger went down in flames Friday, the Orlando Sentinel continued with the same theme.
“This bad bill would have cued the stampede of for-profit charter school companies looking to sweet talk frustrated parents and turn a fast buck,” its editorial board wrote.
There’s no doubt that if one of the biggest newspapers in Florida suggested that the savvy, passionate, well-meaning parents behind the Florida PTA, Parents Across America and Fund Education Now had been “sweet talked” into their opposition by the teachers unions and the Democratic Party — and let’s face it, the links between those groups are obvious — they’d be ripped to shreds.
But somehow, critics of the trigger bill could suggest something similar about low-income parents, again and again, and not get called on it. And it is hard to miss that many of these are parents of color, and that few, if any, were part of the public face of the opposition.
I’m not saying the trigger bill was perfect. I’m not even saying it was good enough to vote for. I think there were legitimate concerns. I also worry that instead of shaking things up too much, it would in the end do too little for schools and families who need way more help than, frankly, either Democrats or Republicans seem willing to give them. But I can understand why there would be sincere support for it — and support that has absolutely nothing to do with privatization or corporate takeovers or any of the poll-tested buzzwords that critics employed.
Who, really, could be against the idea of giving low-income parents more leverage to make their schools — their public schools — better? It’s true that many low-income parents are not as involved in their schools as we all would like, for complicated reasons that are ignored or dismissed or downright twisted. But if something like a parent trigger could inspire them to step up, why would anyone object? Don’t we want more parents who keep an eagle eye on their schools? Who raise holy heck when the district tries to pull a fast one with a merry-go-round teacher or a dud of a principal?
Don’t we want to see more inner-city parents follow the lead of those wonderfully hovering, take-no-guff moms in the ‘burbs?
As for what happened in Florida, I can only shake my head at the rhetoric. Why would middle or upper-income parents assume their low-income peers would automatically choose the charter option? And not only that, but then go with a lame, for-profit charter with a terrible track record (and there are some of those) rather than a high-performing charter that’s demonstrated it knows how to move the needle with low-income kids (and there are some of those, too)?
I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know how it has became so starkly, surreally us-vs.-them.
But I know that kind of talk won’t get us rowing in the same direction. Or make the outcomes better for our kids.