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Union Leader: Parent Trigger And School Grade Changes A “Land Grab”

Mar 1, 2012

Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association president Jean Clements says dual efforts to toughen Florida's school grading system and approve a law allowing a majority of parents to choose how to restructure their child's failing school amount to an education land grab for private business.

Clements' op-ed was published on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog.

Clements argues Florida Department of Education is changing its grade standards with the intention of failing more schools. The agency argues raising standards will compel schools to find ways to improve.

Parents at those failing schools could then invoke the newly approved legislation, nicknamed the "parent trigger," and force the district to restructure the school. That could include closing the school, replacing the principal and/or staff or converting to a charter school.

From Clements' op-ed:

The trigger bill and the Board of Education’s grade change, when considered together, constitute the education equivalent of a land grab. The changes to the grading system would guarantee that Florida’s schools, even those heretofore very successful by the state’s own definition, would be labeled as failures. The parent trigger bill would then allow corporations to take over the newly designated “failing schools.”

Politicians say they are doing this “for the children.” The real goal for some state politicians appears to be awarding favored business interests with state tax dollars while stripping a public institution of resources.

Private school operators see $30 billion in state funds and local property taxes as an untapped market. Private companies would not only get cash flow from every student captured in this process, they’d also get their hands on school land, buildings, equipment and other assets paid for by taxpayers.

Clements piece echoes the thoughts of Florida education activists such as Fund Education Now and 50th No More.

Some context:

The bills proposed by the House and Senate have slightly different time tables. The Senate version would allow parents to invoke the trigger if a school district fails to improve an 'F'-rated school after one year. The House version gives a school district two attempts before parents can petition for their choice.

If the school board disagrees with the parent-chosen option, under both bills the Florida Board of Education would make the final decision.

It's also worth noting that while Clements heads a teachers' union, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association has not fought "reform" ideas tooth and nail.

The union has partnered with the Gates Foundation on a $100 million grant to design a teacher evaluation system -- a position that caused some union members to oppose Clements in the most recent union election.