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  1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Parent trigger bill didn't come from White House efforts

Published Apr. 1, 2013

A Republican lawmaker said he doesn't know why his "parent trigger" bill isn't gaining more support from Democrats in the Legislature.

"This legislation was drafted by President Obama's top advisers. It was drafted by President Clinton's top advisers," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, at a recent hearing on his bill. "Gov. (Jeb) Bush is a big supporter of this, so it's not a partisan issue. I'm not sure why it's turned into that."

We wondered whether Trujillo was right about the roots of the parent trigger bill. Did top advisers to Obama and Clinton help write it?

The bill in question is HB 867, "Parent Empowerment in Education." The legislation allows parents at failing schools to demand changes, including asking for public schools to be turned into charter schools.

Opponents say this power already exists under state and federal law, and teachers unions don't like that public schools could be turned into charter schools. Supporters, like Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, said it gives parents at those schools a "legal seat at the table" in turning around a school.

California became the first state with a parent trigger law in 2010, and states, including Texas and Indiana, have followed in its footsteps. The nonprofit group Parent Revolution launched the California initiative and is supporting Trujillo's bill.

Asked to support the claim, Trujillo's legislative aide Alex Miranda pointed us to the executive director of Parent Revolution, Ben Austin. Austin played a role in drafting the original California legislation, which was introduced by California Democratic Sen. Gloria Romero. That legislation was used as a model for Florida.

Austin's online biography says he has worked on several Democratic presidential campaigns and inside Clinton's White House "in a variety of roles." Plus, he was "an early supporter of Barack Obama's presidential campaign," the website states.

Parent Revolution spokesman David Phelps told us the group designed California's legislation to help that state qualify for a grant under Obama's Race to the Top initiative. But he also said "the usual political definition of 'top adviser' " would not apply to several board members and staff with connections to Clinton and Obama.

"President Obama has spoken frequently (as has Education Secretary Arne Duncan) about the need for parents to be full partners in the decision-making process around their children's education," Phelps said. "Parent trigger and our work at Parent Revolution is a proactive response to those Obama administration calls."

Phelps was not aware of Obama or Clinton publicly endorsing the measure. He also stressed Florida is not using a carbon copy of California's parent trigger law, as each state "has its own specific priorities and educational needs, and state legislators write bills accordingly."

We caught up with Pat DeTemple, Parent Revolution senior strategist. DeTemple winced a little when we told him Trujillo's statement.

"I don't want to speak for Rep. Trujillo," he said. He touched on Austin's "political" role in Clinton's White House and ticked off a series of Austin's Democratic credentials.

Okay, but does that make him a top adviser to either Clinton or Obama?

"No, no," DeTemple said. "I was a general election director for Barack, and I was not a top adviser to him either, you know?

Still, Trujillo has a point about the law attracting national Democratic support, even if Florida Democrats aren't into it, DeTemple said. He pointed to Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as examples of high-profile Democrats who support the concept, as well as Obama's former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Opponents of the parent trigger movement, such as Orlando parent advocacy group Fund Education Now, say talking up liberal credentials is an attempt by supporters of parent trigger "to blur political lines and to declare support from Democrats for this conservative free-market effort."

Our research and reporting shows the people who had a hand in creating the legislation would more accurately be described as supporters of Obama and Clinton, not top advisers. The legislation being considered in Tallahassee did not come out of Washington's West Wing. We rate Trujillo's statement False.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/Florida. Contact Katie Sanders at ksanders@tampabay.com.

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