Parents Hate "Parent Empowerment" School Bill, So Why Does It Exist?

The bill would convert public schools to charters.
A bizarre showdown is unfolding in Tallahassee this week. Advocates for parents -- including the Florida PTA and Parents Across America --  are lobbying vehemently against a bill that's supposed to "empower them."

The proposed legislation would let parents vote to turn a failing public school into a charter school. Opponents say SB 1718, the "Parent Empowerment in Education" bill, is a thinly veiled attempt to expand charters in a state where the for-profit charter school business is already booming.

"This bill is a hoax to further privatize our public schools," Rita Solnet, a Palm Beach County parent advocate, wrote in an open letter to StudentsFirst, an organization pushing the bill. "This bill no more empowers me than it does the gecko on my patio from taking over my home."

So why are Republican legislators pushing the bill? Let's follow the money.

Last year, the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers), received at least $2,500 in campaign contributions from people in the business of "educational services," including $500 from StudentsFirst.

Benacquisto got another $500 from Education Partnerships, a joint venture in Tallahassee that is not registered with the Florida Secretary of State's Office and has no website. The mysterious business gave $15,500 to Florida Republicans last year, including $10,000 to the state Republican Party. It did not give to Democrats.

Benaqcuisto's other notable donor was Community Education Partners Inc., a for-profit company from Nashville that runs alternative schools and dropout prevention programs. The company gave $10,500 to Republican legislators last year (nothing at all to Democrats). Under the "parent empowerment" bill, a failing school could also be turned over to a private management company.

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This bill would allow parents of children at failing schools to change that school into a charter school. If would require a majority of parents to vote to do this. If no parents want this as the author implies, then there is nothing to worry about as there would't be enough votes.


Ohhh, that's terrible that an organization looking out for the best interest of students and parents would contribute to a political candidate who is also willing to look out for the best interest of students and parents (yes, that's blatant sarcasm).

What about the Florida Education Association, which claims to be looking out for students, but opposes measures like this that give parents political power by giving them a greater voice and more meaningful role in a turnaround process that is already law? Where are the hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from that they are spending on misinformation campaigns and robo-calls misleading senators and constituents?

Then there's a mystery company and one that "runs alternative schools and dropout prevention programs" donating to the same pro-student legislator. So, alternative methods of teaching, and preventing kids from dropping out are bad things!?!

"Well," you say, "they only contributed to Republicans, and not Democrats..." As a proud member of Democrats for Education Reform and advocate for better education for years, I can tell you that it's appalling how difficult it is to get Democrats to support actual improvements in education. I've helped numerous parents stuck with failing schools reach out to their Democrat legislators, only to be given lip service at best. No wonder they don't contribute to Democrats!

"Under the "parent empowerment" bill, a failing school could also be turned over to a private management company." - This is part of federal law that already exists and is not introduced by the Parent Empowerment Act. Under Florida law (statute 1002.33), charter schools in FL must be public schools.

It's time to quit saying we want better education, but fighting to maintain status quo!

PESJA Los Angeles
PESJA Los Angeles

Parent Revolution can deny their ties to ALEC and other reactionaries all they want, but they can't hide the fact that they have had deep and long-standing partnerships with ALEC members, including fringe right-wing The Heartland Institute. In addition to constant collaboration with Heartland, Parent Revolution hosts forums with them. See the following flyer from one of their events and an article discussing it:

The evidence is damning, and their claims that they don't represent right-wing interests ring hollow. Bear in mind Parent Revolution was originally the Los Angeles Parents Union, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Green Dot Charter School Corporation. Parent Revolution's sole reason for existence is to build market share for the lucrative charter school sector. This is born out both by the comments of their funders, and by the privatization policies of their funders.

See this piece for a statement by Eli Broad on why he funds Parent Revolution:

See these documents to see the names right-wing plutocrats who fund Parent Revolution and the staggering amounts they contribute. Tops on the list, the privatization reactionaries at the Walton Family Foundation.

For the actual ALEC legislation crafted from Governor Schwartzenegger, Ben Austin, Gloria Romero's original bill, see:

To be sure, "school choice" was the clarion call of segregationists. It still is.

Pete Pepper
Pete Pepper

Its another case of the republicans thinking they know better than anyone else.  Or, in other words, they are getting mo money, mo money, mo money.Privatizing public school is just a bad idea.  Before long all you will have as an "education" is abstinence only  and creationism.  The only book would be the bible and if you dont think JUST like they do, then its straight off to the privatized prisons.

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