Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Florida House blows past facts to pass parent trigger bill

It's all about the children.

(Except the bit about turning a profit.)

It's a way to empower the parents.

(Except every major parent group hates it.)

It's an idea whose time has come.

(Except it's turned California into an educational war zone.)

Yes, your state lawmakers are at it again. They look at legislation that appears to be a recipe for confusion and abuse, and somehow declare it a godsend.

They say tomato, I say morons.

In case you aren't up to speed, the state House passed a bill on Thursday that allows parents to petition for a variety of overhauls if a local school is struggling.

What's so bad about that, you ask?

In theory, not a thing.

But reality has a way of perverting, misappropriating and generally mucking up even the best of intentions. And I'm not even sure this one began with good intentions.

So if we can skip all of the minor details and skirmishes, the real issue is this legislation potentially allows public schools to be handed over to for-profit charter companies.

Some legislators insist that is not the bill's motivation. Others don't even try to disguise that it is a likely outcome.

"I've never heard of making a profit being a bad thing,'' said Rep. George Moraitis R-Fort Lauderdale. "This is the United States of America.''

He's nailed his geography, but Moraitis might have an economics issue.

Those profits he is so gleefully pushing toward out-of-state charter companies are supplied by your tax dollars. Tax dollars originally earmarked for your child's education, books, lunches and so on.

"There's nothing wrong with a company making a profit,'' said Mindy Gould, the legislation chair for the Florida PTA. "But when it's made off the backs of our children, I think it becomes a problem.''

Now it's important to point out that charter schools are not the enemy here. The number of charter success stories in this state is impressive, including St. Petersburg Collegiate High School and Brooks DeBartolo Collegiate High School in this market.

But it can also be said that charter schools have failed at a much higher rate than public schools, and there have been far too many stories of management companies and employees pillaging school funds for personal gain.

Between 2002-03 and 2008-09, 23 new charters opened in Hillsborough County, according to state department of education numbers. Nine have already closed their doors. Granted, that's a small sample size, but a fail rate of nearly 40 percent is staggering no matter how you slice it.

Beyond the disruption to student lives, each one of those failures potentially represents hundreds of thousands of tax dollars forever lost.

This doesn't mean we should abandon the idea of charter schools. They continue to serve a valuable role in our educational system.

But those numbers and the anecdotal cases of abuse suggest our legislators should be concentrating on how better to regulate charter schools instead of passing laws that ensure the continuation of unmonitored growth.

"We absolutely need to address failing schools, but this isn't the way to do it,'' said Gould. "We need to encourage more parental involvement, but this isn't how it's done.

"Let's bring parents to the table. Let's get them involved with their voices instead of handing them a pencil and asking them to sign a petition that hands all of the power over to some corporation. That's not empowering parents.''

This is not the first time the House has flirted with a so-called parent trigger bill. It was approved by the House last year, but got stuck in the Senate on a tie vote.

(And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Rep. Mike Fasano R-New Port Richey and Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, were among a handful of Republicans who crossed party lines to vote against the bill on Thursday.)

It's looking more and more like the Senate is going to pass its version of the parent trigger this time around. The combination of Jeb Bush's stamp of approval, heavy lobbying by charter companies and partisan politics will likely be too much to overcome.

Never mind that it seems decidedly unpopular at the grass roots level, our lawmakers tend to see only what they want to see.

They say potato, I say nuts.

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