Florida Legislators, Governor to Consider Parent Trigger

Published December 23, 2011

Draft bills with a Parent Trigger provision have been offered to both houses of the Florida Legislature by the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

The proposed bills would add the Trigger to current school turnaround options, which include replacing staff and administrators, bringing in outside educators, and closing schools, said Jaryn Emhof, communications director for the foundation, an education think tank chaired by former Sunshine State Gov. Jeb Bush.

The measure would require a school turnaround if 51 percent of parents with children in that school sign a petition calling for that action.

Along with California, where the nation’s first Parent Trigger law passed in January 2010 by a single vote in both houses of the legislature, Texas, Ohio, and Connecticut have passed similar legislation. A dozen other states are considering some form of the law.

Gov. Scott Considering
Several media outlets reported the Trigger would be part of Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) legislative agenda for the 2012 session.

The Trigger was listed on a rough draft of “potential priorities” composed by previous members of Scott’s administration and “leaked to the media,” said Lane Wright, Scott’s press secretary.

“The governor has nothing to do with Parent Trigger legislation that is out there,” but he does “believe in school choice, that parents and students should be able to have more options, which just makes everybody—public schools, charter schools, private schools—better,” Wright said.

Wright said the governor needed more information about the Trigger before endorsing or rejecting it, because it “gets a little beyond the choice issue.”

Michelle Rhee, a former Washington, DC schools chancellor who is now Scott’s education adviser, supports the Trigger. In 2010, Rhee founded Students First, with the stated mission of building a national education reform movement, including empowering parents “to trigger the turnaround of a failing school.”

‘A Unique Session’
Florida’s 2012 legislative session begins in January instead of the usual March opening, so legislators can attend to the state budget and redistricting.

“This year’s going to be a very different year,” Emhof said. “It will be a unique session. Nobody really knows what that will mean for education policy.”

Converting Failing Schools
The first attempt at using the Trigger resulted in a litany of legal battles after hundreds of parents signed a petition in fall 2010 to convert McKinley Elementary, a failing school in Compton, California, into a charter school.

The suit resulted in a new charter school near McKinley. More than 30 percent of the former McKinley parents who signed the Trigger petition enrolled their children in the charter.

Although Florida has one of the “broadest offerings of school choice in the nation, we see the Trigger option as a way for parents to be involved, especially if their children are trapped in failing schools,” Emhof said.