More parent trigger disconnect

Pity the parent trigger. Its political identity crisis never ends.

In Florida, the trigger erupted in a state House race this week, with a Democratic challenger accusing her Republican rival in an attack ad of voting last spring “to take control of our schools away from parents and teachers, and give it to out of state corporations instead.” This is no surprise, given how effectively Florida critics – including many Democrats – have portrayed the trigger as a spawn of the right.

But meanwhile, one of the progressive Democrats most closely associated with the parent trigger indicated in an op-ed that he couldn’t support a trigger proposal in Michigan. Why? Because it doesn’t bar for-profit charter schools from being among the parent-picked turnaround options. Ben Austin (pictured here), who leads Parent Revolution, went even further, writing, “Parents must have power over the education of their own children. Profit has no place in that education.”

This guy is a wild-eyed privatizer?

Austin’s comments drew a swift rebuke from the ed policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which many would consider conservative: “While the notion that schools should be ‘above’ self-interest and the profit motive has a certain raw populist appeal, a moment’s reflection reveals it to be ridiculous,” wrote Michael Van Beek. “Should schools also purchase only textbooks produced on charitable printing presses? Should their cafeterias only serve food grown on government farms?”

Beek also criticized the trigger because it’s limited to parents in the poorest performing schools. All parents, he wrote, should have access to this power.

So let’s get this straight: A Democratic legislative candidate in Florida is socking a Republican incumbent for supporting a parental empowerment tool that is often framed as conservative, even though one of its biggest cheerleaders is a liberal activist who just blasted the possibility of “profit” playing a positive role in ed reform and who in turn earned the ire of a right-wing think tank that says the trigger doesn’t go far enough.

The parent trigger will be considered by the Florida Legislature again next spring. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea; a lot will depend on the details. But I am sure it’ll be more productive if we drop all the distracting and misleading political labels — and just debate the thing on its merits.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at


It’s not about conservative versus liberal. It’s about bought-and-paid-for corporate hacks versus parents and teachers whose primary goal is to help children.

Until the Florida Legislature funds education per their constitutionally-mandated duty, it’s hardly fair to discuss handing off low-performing public schools to corporations.

Jennifer Martin

The parent trigger is totally unnecessary. The parents of my elementary school turned it around by meeting in our cafeteria where we had so many parents that we violated fire marshall rules. When school administrators saw how determined, how upset, and how many parents were involved, they caved and we got a wonderful new principal. Parents already have the power, they just need to use it. The same 51% who would lobby and sign petitions for the parent trigger can do that without a law and achieve excellent results. The difference, charter school pushers won’t be influencing parents to think a charter school or a particular charter school is the only solution. There are way too many charter schools in my county already; if a parent feels a charter school is better, that parent already has the ability to move to one.

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