March 4, 2012
By: Bob Sikes
Published in Scathing Purple Musings
Amidst all the hostility – of which I’ve contributed – in the debate over parent trigger legislation (Parent Empowerment Act) the opportunity to reach out to opponents should not be lost. Having said this, it’s time point out to Floridians and the legislators who represent them that real flaws exist in the legislation and that there are practical reasons not to pass it they may not have looked at. Consider the following:
1. There’s significant cost uncertainty. Analyses of the House and Senate versions aren’t in agreement. Its irresponsible to presume that districts won’t take hits to their already stretched operating costs just in the bill’s provision which requires parent notification in the event a teacher is out-of-field or has been rated as ineffective. The Senate analysis addresses this, but not anything else. In the event a school does go through a petition process, any appeal which follows will be sure to include significant legal costs. As there is no funding attached, Parent Empowerment, like SB736, is another unfunded mandate.
2. The bill does not have protections against out-of-state groups or entities whom would benefit from manipulating the signature process. It is these whom have caused significant divisiveness within communities, sometimes pitting student against student. Advocacy organization Parent Revolution testified to the Florida legislature at least twice. This group is funded by charter school interests and it is they whom organized support and logistics for two such well-publicized and extremely controversial petition efforts in California. During yesterday’s testimony, Parent Revolution operative Michael Trujillo attempted to advance the story that a criminal investigation was underway against teacher unions as a result of their most recent effort when in fact, it was they whom advanced accusations that criminality took place. Of the 460 signatures that Parent Revolution gathered, only 235 could be verified. The school board voted 5-0 to deny the petition, prompting Parent Revolution to call the action “unethical and illegal.” Do Floridians want such conflict in its communities?
3. During yesterday’s budget committee meeting, Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Daytona Beach pointed out that Florida already as a plan to deal with failing schools and an already well-financed successful voucher program. Lynn, who opposes the legislation gave much credit to Jeb Bush’s foundation for these reforms, is making the case that Parent Empowerment is not needed in Florida. There’s uncertainty as well, in how conflicts between the bill and the existing policies that Lynn points to will be resolved. Moreover – and something that Senator Lynn might agree with – the spirit of Parent Empowerment does not give changes implemented last year in SB 736 a chance to work or prove effective.
4. Parent Empowerment goes into effect in July this year. As the bill’s parental notification provision charges that parents be notified in the event their child is in a class with a teacher rated ineffective, it means that benchmarks of SB 736 will be implemented. The new teacher evaluation system is within its first year and is not supposed to go into effect until 2014. Not only will the date discrepancies need to be worked out, Power Empowerment presumes the teacher ratings are accurate. Half of a teacher’s evaluation comes from student test scores filtered through some extremely complicated calculus. The use of test data in this manner has not yet proved to be reliable. Nor has it demonstrated that a patterns exists among teachers.
5. A new school grade system that’s being advanced by education commissioner Gerard Robinson will raise the number of F schools who could be targets of petition efforts from around 30 to over 200. Coupled with Parent Empowerment, the sheer volume of petition campaigns would be overwhelming and chaotic.
6. A StateImpact story earlier this year revealed that 86 percent of Florida charter schools do not provide services for disabled students. Nor do all provide free and/or reduced meals or transportation. Florida’s Parent Empowerment act does not address these realities that are certain to exist in schools which would be targets.
There is no doubt that for most, the intentions of implementing Parent Empowerment legislation in Florida are good. But clear contradictions, conflicts and uncertainties cannot be brushed aside by good intentions. Its time to take a sober look at what Parent Empowerment will do and what it leaves unanswered.
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