Parent Trigger Bill Gets Positive Florida Reception

Published March 14, 2013

Florida Reps. Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca have introduced a Parent Trigger bill that would authorize parents to choose a reform option for their children’s chronically failing school. Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) filed a companion Senate bill that would also require schools to notify parents of online options if their child is assigned a poorly rated or qualified teacher.

With a Parent Trigger law, “I would feel empowered knowing that I would be listened to,” Florida dad Samuel Davila said in Spanish, through a translator. “No one knows my child like I do. I would be able to work together with the teachers.”

Davila said most parents he knows feel similarly about a Parent Trigger.

The measure “provides parents with the most proactive method of instituting change in chronically failing schools,” by engaging and informing parents, Trujillo (R-Miami) said.

The Florida bills, similar to the nation’s seven state Parent Trigger laws, allow a simple majority of parents whose children attend a failing school to require reform by signing a petition. Reform options include converting the school into a charter school, closing it, reassigning students to better-performing nearby schools, and contracting with an outside organization to run the school.

Last year, another Parent Trigger bill in Florida failed by a single vote when its sponsor voted against it over a disagreement on another bill.

Opportunities for Needy Families
When the Davilas attempted to transfer their fourth-grade son, Moses, from one public Miami elementary school to another, school officials told them if the second school did not accept him, he could not go back to his first.

“[Moses’s school] was a failing school and instead of learning more, he was going down,” Davila said of his son. “Every day he would come home learning nothing, and he didn’t want to study.”

If the Parent Trigger had passed last year, parents like the Davilas would have reform options now, noted Joanna Hassell, deputy director of policy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

“Parents of kids trapped in failing schools deserve to know that their voices are just as important and just as meaningful as the voices of the parents in the PTA,” she said.

Generating Parent Engagement
In 2012, 25 Florida schools earned a failing grade for academic performance, which Trujillo calls “unacceptable.”

Parents whose children attend failing schools are often less engaged because they have little power in school decisions, Stargel said. Even if only 40 percent of parents sign a petition to take part in a Parent Trigger process, those parents have become more engaged in their child’s school and generate social capital, Stargel said.

“A lot of parents in [failing] schools don’t understand that they have a voice,” Stargel said.

Teacher Performance Info
Florida law requires schools to notify parents when assigning a student to a teacher teaching out of his or her field or who has received ‘needs improvement’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ evaluations for three years. Stargel’s bill would require schools to tell these parents about opportunities for better instruction through online schools.

Students taught by high-performing teachers learn five to six months more material each year than those taught by low-performing teachers, Hassell said.

The bill also requires that every child attending public schools be assigned to a teacher rated “effective” or “highly effective” at least every other year.

“Improving teacher quality and informing parents that they do not have to sit idly by while their children are taught by teachers with low performance ratings will result in positive outcomes by replacing these teachers with better performing ones,” Trujillo said.

Smooth Passage?
Political strife more than policy caused the bill to fail last year, Stargel said. She’s optimistic this year’s bill will pass.

“The composition of the Senate this year is actually more favorable to the proposal than it was a year ago,” said William Mattox, a resident fellow at the James Madison Institute.

Floridians are accustomed to stringent school accountability so would tend to support the bill, Mattox said.

Trujillo says the bill gives “parents with an additional avenue to become involved in the decision making process of their children’s education,” and that’s why his colleagues will pass it.


Image by Kate Gardiner.