Leading Democratic mayors back allegedly right-wing parent trigger

It’s getting harder and harder for critics to torpedo education reform ideas like the “parent trigger” by distorting political affiliations. The evidence just keeps getting in the way.

The latest example is what happened at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Orlando last weekend. With prominent Democrats leading the charge, the mayors in a voice vote unanimously endorsed parent triggers, which aim to help fed-up, low-income parents turn around struggling schools.

“Too many districts,” their resolution said (go to page 169), “continue to turn a blind eye toward some of the worst performing schools … ”

Now, whatever you think of parent triggers as a school-improvement tool – and there’s plenty of room for fair-minded debate here – it’s undeniable that critics have gotten considerable traction by portraying the notion as conservative, corporate, far-right and Republican. This was especially true in Florida. Parent trigger legislation was narrowly defeated in March after weeks of being caricatured as another sinister device for Jeb Bush, the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council to mine billions of dollars from the privatization of public schools. (If you think my description is over the top, please watch this video.)

It’s true a lot of “conservative” ed reformers like the idea of a parent trigger. But it’s true, too, that the idea of giving low-income parents leverage and options, including the possibility of converting their schools into charter schools, has roots in “liberal/progressive” circles. (My apologies for the air quotes; after covering education in Florida for eight years, the labels just no longer make sense to me.) The sponsor of the original parent trigger bill in California, former state Sen. Gloria Romero, is a Democrat. Ben Austin, who heads the Parent Revolution group that is pushing the idea from state to state, is a former staffer in the Clinton White House. Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff to Barack Obama and now mayor of Chicago, is a fan, too.

All that wasn’t enough to scrub the perceived partisan funk off the Florida bill. But all indications are that it will resurface next spring. And maybe last weekend’s vote will help it be judged on its merits rather than its alleged lineage.

Three big-city Democrats – Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (pictured above), Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson – were out front on the resolution. And scores of other Democratic mayors were in attendance, including some from Florida. If they had objections, they didn’t raise them.

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, no news media in Florida covered this development. And but for this one exception (which I respectfully think missed the mark) no Florida newspapers followed up on the lone story or at least blogged it for the record. I think that’s odd, not only because the parent trigger was such a big deal during the legislative session but because it raises obvious and compelling questions: Why did all those mayors, especially the Democrats, vote for a resolution that puts them at odds with their local teachers unions and PTAs?

Maybe they weren’t paying attention. Or maybe, like many low-income parents, they’re just tired of waiting.

(Image from thegrio.com)

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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 rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.


Mr. Matus, what about 330,000 voices of PTA moms do you fail to uinderstand? Add together the total f Jeb’s 2 foundation’s Faceboook fans and you get less than 1,000. Have you been able to locate the repi What is it about democracy that you dislike? Have you been able to locate the strong parent group support for this baloney in Florida as reported by politicians? Nooone can find them and folks flocked to the media to make sure noone thought it could be them.
It seems to me that the parent trigger bill is akin to a charter seeder with a false pretense of empowering parents as a salespitch. Are you unfamiliar with the numerous avenues available to unhappy parents in our state? Let me advise you, as a parent of gifted students who has utilized many options and side wth the public schools against the profitteering motive. As a parent of gited students, I have the chance to influence/challenge my child’s public school education whenever I wish due to my rights as a parent. Ican have my chd’s legal document reviewed, revised, re-written as I wish. I can challenge it , state my disagreement with it, file a formal complaint to the state, engage in mediation, and speak at school board meetings. I have been able to get school assignment changes as well. I went above and beyond these avenues and created data as a non statistician and ccirculated it through Tallahassee, which earned me a seat on a state advisroy board and elicited a request that I speak before legislators . I met with high folks in high places.
Let’s look at the role of mayors and their ability to judge education systems/bills. I would place my confidence in the minimal to none range but I can gauge thier interest in the parent trigger disaster. By gaining more for profit charters, their tax needs will be lessened and profits made. That is a business’economic decision and not about children. Who are mayors? Politicians. What are they about? Historically it has not been their territory to nose around in education. Certainly the profiteering movement prefers this to unions who may serve as an obstacle to furthering the privatization venue of ALEC. Why do you see the ALEC model legislation re parent trigger as of little significance? What is ALEC about? Milton Friedman, profit, free market forces? Doesn’t that equate selling our children’s minds to the lowest bidders so adults can get rich? Ask hedge fund managers who head Democrats for Ed Reform why they love charters. Ask why Students First fusses about layoff procedures but not inadequate funding. Ask if the A+ Plan was developed for business, where it raises property values and can lure businesses and residents while it fails to measure school quality. Would that goal explain why Florida allowed A schools on every corner while our Seniors scored below the national average on the 2009 in both Reading and Math? Certainly these students had the histroy of many years under jeb’s smoke and mirrors startegies. Ask yourself why I opine you support bologna which has nothing to do with the best interest of students but alot to do with mining the public schools for profit.


I work with Ron and my guess is that all three of us have much more in common than it might appear from this exchange. I’m no hedge fund manager or Milton Friedman protege, and happen to be a Democrat who spent much of his professional career writing newspaper editorials that, among other things, called for the smart use of tests and more money for public education. I still believe in both and believe, as you do, that public education is the bedrock of our democracy. As my own children grew up in public schools, I, like you, spent nearly 20 years serving on SACs and PTAs and cherish those efforts.

What our blog attempts to do is get beyond the angry recriminations we often see on both sides of these difficult issues and simply talk about the value — or lack thereof — of educational ideas. In that vein, we do remind people that these ideas often cut across partisan lines. For example, I happen to think that we strengthen our collective commitment to equal educational opportunity by giving our poorest students a private option they could not otherwise afford. I recognize that you disagree with me on that issue, but I hope you could accept that my beliefs are sincere and not part of some corporate or conservative conspiracy.

I do admire your dedication to public schools, and I’d welcome the chance to talk more if you’re interested. Don’t hesitate to email me at jeast@stepupforstudents.org.

Bonnie Capatelli

Hi Jon,

No, I don’t think you’re “part of some corporate or conservative conspiracy”. And neither does Diane, at any point, on her blogpost. I’m sorry, but it’s a bit patronizing on your part to assume such a premise and then proceed to your “good natured” talking points, emphasizing your “Democrat” background while you lament about “angry recriminations” that supposedly occur “on both sides” of “these difficult issues”.

No personal offense, Jon, but spare us. Okay?

We all have to eat. And pay bills. I get that. I’m in the same boat. Ironically, it’s only your funders that are the exception to this near-universal rule. (Do the names “Broad”, “Walton” or “Gates”, among others, ring a bell?)

Just compare the look and feel of the “education” reform (Privatization) websites with those in support of our schools. Compare the number of paid staff. Look at the funding sources.

It’s amazing that a “debate” has even emerged. And you should be glad that it has. If it weren’t for parents, like me, your financers would have no reason to fund your position. Would they?

You can’t be as myopic, or eh…obtuse, as some of your postings. No one is a dummy here.

You’re doing this for the money, Jon. There’s a reason that so many journalists are scurrying for work in this environment. I sincerely sympathize. And I know that if a genuinely good group—like Parents Across America—had the budget, you’d likely be working for them instead.

When people sellout, they usually don’t walk around, consciously saying so; even to themselves. They rationalize. I know because I’ve done it myself.

So, go ahead and try to convince us that it’s “all about changing the nasty tone”—wouldn’t “it be so much better if we could speak in a civil way, me with my billionaires behind me, and you, with a bunch of struggling middle class families?”

Conspiracy? Hardly. That’s your word, not mine or Diane’s. It’s much simpler than that. Money talks. And it messes with many a head.

I wish you were with the good guys. And I wish we had the money to bring you over here…

Doug Tuthill

Ms. Capatelli–We have removed one of your comments that included profanity.

I would like to again remind our readers that on this blog we value civility and respect. We do not want comments that include name calling, cursing, and gratuitous personal attacks. If we you want to yell, scream and curse at people, please do it elsewhere.

We do value diverse opinions and hope readers will use our comment feature to respectfully and thoughtfully challenge ideas. The issues confronting our nation’s schools and school children are too important to be degraded by profanity.

Jim Capatelli

Thank you, Diane. You said it very well. This article is so bizarre, so specious, so absolutely egregious, it’s almost hurts the very interests funding this writer.

The truth always wins out in the end. And luckily for America’s children, the truth is on their side, not the side of the very, very wealthy who want to destroy our public schools, Republican and “Democrat” alike.

Mr. Matus:

Your citing of Romero, Austin, and others’ political party affiliation does little to conceal the fact that their policy advocacy is so reactionary, that the only groups that work with them are the most fringe-right organization in the history of this nation. For example, Romero runs with folks that are considered right-wing even by the John Birch Society.

Peas in a pod: Koret Foundation, The Hoover Institution, and Democrats for Education Reform

Austin is no slouch either, co-hosting forums with the extremists from The Heartland Institute.

Mayors like Villaraigosa don’t help your case at all. The oportunis won an award from the arch-reactionary American Enterprise Institute for his privatization policies and poverty pimping.

Kevin Johnson? The man is married to tea-bagger favorite, Michelle Rhee

You can throw out rhetorical nonsense like “caricatured,” but how do you dispute the very real fact that the corporate charter trigger law — what you term parent trigger — is a ALEC template legislation?

In other words, there’s nothing “allegedly” right wing about the trigger. It’s just plain reactionary and was dreamt up by voucher and charter profiteers to pump more money into their pockets. Just because Democrats adopt racist right-wing ideas like profitability, competition, and choice, doesn’t make the ideas progressive. It just means the Democrats have shifted ever further to the right.

Tricking low income parents into giving away public resources to private enterprise isn’t empowerment, it’s duplicitous deception.

Bonnie Capatelli

Bingo! You hit the nail on the head, Mr. Skeels. Congratulations.

No wonder there was no response to this. 😉

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