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Once a priority, 'parent trigger' idea no longer figures in group's education agenda

A national advocacy group that in recent years has pressured Florida lawmakers to adopt the controversial "parent trigger" school takeover plan will not push that initiative again in 2014.

Instead, StudentsFirst will spend its political capital urging the Legislature to improve the state's financial reporting so that families can see clearly how spending is tied to academic achievement at the school level. The group is run by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor who has informally advised Gov. Rick Scott.

In its annual report card of state education policies, released today, StudentsFirst identified Florida's spending practices as more concerning than the state's parent-empowerment laws.

"Certainly, parent trigger is not going to be a priority for us this year," said Nikki Lowery, executive director of StudentsFirst Florida. "It's hard to justify going after that as a priority when we have a D+ in another (area)."

Parent trigger would have given parents more power in effecting major changes at failing public schools, including turning them into charter schools. The Senate has killed it twice.

Overall, StudentsFirst rated Florida's education policies second best in the country, with only Louisiana doing better. Both earned B-minus grades on the report card.

Florida also ranked second in the 2013 StudentsFirst report, which compares state rules and laws with an "ideal" set of practices that the group supports.

In addition to parent trigger, StudentsFirst has backed the elimination of teacher tenure and continuing contracts, and promoted separating teacher evaluations from contract negotiations among other ideas. Florida lawmakers have embraced those ideas, as well.

Separately, the respected national journal Education Week last week rated Florida seventh nationally for K-12 achievement, up from 12th a year earlier. However, it ranked Florida below the national average in the categories of school finance and "chance for success," a measure of the impact of education across a person's lifetime.

The financial area also caught the attention of StudentsFirst.

Lowery said Florida collects plenty of data about spending and student performance, but has made only minor attempts to bring back its school-by-school return on investment report.

"We want to encourage them to start that up again," she said. "We feel like that should be a fairly easy thing to accomplish."

StudentsFirst is not giving up its support of the parent trigger in general, Florida spokesman Lane Wright said. However, he noted, it has several other policy goals that it also won't pursue in the state, such as equitable funding for charter schools.

Senate Education Committee chairman John Legg said it was "highly improbable" that a parent trigger bill would be filed in the Senate this year. In the House, Michael Bileca, chairman of the Choice & Innovation Subcommittee and a former sponsor of parent trigger legislation, said he had no plans to push the measure again and didn't know of any other lawmaker who did.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Once a priority, 'parent trigger' idea no longer figures in group's education agenda 01/14/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 12:04am]

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