Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett has warned that "parent trigger" bills expected to pass the Legislature are flawed. He's right, but for the wrong reasons.
Parent trigger laws, despite the name, have nothing to do with guns. But they are a weapon in the scheme to privatize public education. And the parent trigger fad mimics in-your-face laws that the National Rifle Association makes lawmakers pass just to show who's boss.
Similarly, parent trigger laws force lawmakers to kneel down before alleged education reformers like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Excellence in Education -- which takes money from for-profit charter schools -- is a major advocate for parent trigger.
The bills allow parents of children in "failing" schools to change the school's structure, including an option to turn the school over to a private charter school company.
School boards already have that option and others, including the option to close the school, hire a management company or convert the school to a district-run "turnaround" school. Now, the local school board decides what to do. The parent-trigger bill that passed a House education subcommittee last week (House Bill 867) would let parents recommend which option to exercise -- assuming 51 percent sign a petition.
Mr. Bennett told lawmakers the bill is too bureaucratic. And he objected to a provision letting the state board of education pick a plan if parents and the local board disagree. In his view, this lets the local folks off the hook.
It is ironic if Mr. Bennett thinks fear of local voters will make school boards turn over more schools to charter companies. His advocacy for charter, voucher and virtual schools led to his defeat last November in his bid for reelection as Indiana's education chief.
There is no responsible way to streamline the petition safeguards Mr. Bennett criticized. Vague petition rules have snagged California's parent trigger law in court. There, parents who signed a petition tried to remove their names after feeling they'd been misled. The House bill tries to avoid some problems by outlawing paid signature gatherers and attempts to anticipate other conundrums -- for example, what to do if one parent signs a petition and the other disagrees (Answer: The parent who signed counts as a half vote).
Last year's parent trigger law failed on a tie vote in the Senate. Some of the provisions Mr. Bennett criticized were attempts, however inadequate, to answer concerns from critics.
Parent trigger would have little effect in Florida, for now. Fewer than three dozen failing schools would be covered. But for-profit charter companies, which gave $2 million in Florida's last election, are eager for the precedent. Their goal is to make for-profit charter schools the norm.
Parent trigger, restricted to F schools, in later years could be expanded to all traditional public schools. There is no evidence parent-approved plans would do a better job of turning around low-performing schools.
But the goal isn't to improve schools, it's to improve the bottom line for for-profit charters.