'Grass roots' support hurts credibility of parent trigger backers

Published Apr. 30, 2013

Maybe they got greedy. Maybe they were too cocky.

Maybe they just didn't think anyone was paying attention.

No matter the explanation, supporters of a parent trigger law went one step too far when they produced a petition riddled with inconsistencies and doubt.

The petition was supposed to prove this pro-charter school legislation had grass roots support among parents, but instead it highlighted what critics have been saying all along:

This law is about pushing Jeb Bush's education agenda, and little else.

The petition with 1,400 or so signatures appears to have duplicate names. And people from outside of Florida. And signatures from people who said they never signed it.

It was like pulling the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz, except nobody in this tale has any interest in courage, brains or heart.

"It shoots a hole in the credibility of their entire argument," said former state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who helped kill similar legislation in 2012. "And even if the 1,400 were all real, so what? In a state of 18 million people, you only have 1,400 names?

"The most damaging thing is the whole point of this legislation is to make it easier for somebody to organize a petition to turn a school into a charter. And they're pushing it with a petition that is faulty and possibly fraudulent," she said. "So how much confidence are we supposed to have that their petitions to take over a public school will be done in an honest and ethical way? It's just ridiculous."

Ridiculous is a good word.

So is deceitful.

This issue has never been about empowering parents. You need only look at who supports each side to figure that out.

On the charter school side you have Bush's minions and some mega rich foundations from California and elsewhere. On the other side you have virtually every major parent group in the state, including the 300,000 members of the Florida PTA.

And we're supposed to believe legislators have parents' best interests at heart?

The problem isn't the creation of a handful of new charters. There is no doubt that in certain circumstances, a charter school can be a boon for a community in need.

The issue is lawmakers are writing blank checks to charters that, in many cases, are run by for-profit companies. The Legislature just approved $91 million for charter school construction. That's $91 million that will no longer be spent on the public schools down the street.

So why are politicians in love with this legislation?

"They're not in love with it. Half of them don't even know what it will do," said Dockery. "What they're in love with is following Republican leadership. And they're in love with anything that has Jeb Bush's name on it. And they're in love with anything that goes against the teachers union."

The bill has already passed the state House and is now scheduled to be heard by the Senate.

In case you're interested, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Sen. John Legg, R-Pasco County, voted in favor of the bill in 2012 in either the Senate or House, and will get a second chance today. Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, voted no last year. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Hernando County, will be seeing it for the first time.