Pity the parent trigger. Its political identity crisis never ends.
In Florida, the trigger erupted in a state House race this week, with a Democratic challenger accusing her Republican rival in an attack ad of voting last spring “to take control of our schools away from parents and teachers, and give it to out of state corporations instead.” This is no surprise, given how effectively Florida critics – including many Democrats – have portrayed the trigger as a spawn of the right.
But meanwhile, one of the progressive Democrats most closely associated with the parent trigger indicated in an op-ed that he couldn’t support a trigger proposal in Michigan. Why? Because it doesn’t bar for-profit charter schools from being among the parent-picked turnaround options. Ben Austin (pictured here), who leads Parent Revolution, went even further, writing, “Parents must have power over the education of their own children. Profit has no place in that education.”
This guy is a wild-eyed privatizer?
Austin’s comments drew a swift rebuke from the ed policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which many would consider conservative: “While the notion that schools should be ‘above’ self-interest and the profit motive has a certain raw populist appeal, a moment’s reflection reveals it to be ridiculous,” wrote Michael Van Beek. “Should schools also purchase only textbooks produced on charitable printing presses? Should their cafeterias only serve food grown on government farms?”
Beek also criticized the trigger because it’s limited to parents in the poorest performing schools. All parents, he wrote, should have access to this power.
So let’s get this straight: A Democratic legislative candidate in Florida is socking a Republican incumbent for supporting a parental empowerment tool that is often framed as conservative, even though one of its biggest cheerleaders is a liberal activist who just blasted the possibility of “profit” playing a positive role in ed reform and who in turn earned the ire of a right-wing think tank that says the trigger doesn’t go far enough.
The parent trigger will be considered by the Florida Legislature again next spring. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea; a lot will depend on the details. But I am sure it’ll be more productive if we drop all the distracting and misleading political labels — and just debate the thing on its merits.