Florida Civil Rights Groups Statement on “Parent Trigger" Bill

March 21, 2013

The "parent trigger" bill has surfaced again in the Florida legislature this session. Yesterday, LULAC Florida and the Florida NAACP sent the following joint letter to Governor Scott, the Florida House Education Committee, and the legislative delegations from Miami-Dade County and Broward County:

Joint Statement: Equity Issues and the Parent Trigger Bill

LULAC Florida and the Florida Conference of the NAACP oppose the Parent Empowerment in Education bill as unnecessary legislation that fails to address the persistence of educational inequity in Florida’s charter schools. We affirm the importance and positive impact of parent empowerment and engagement on student achievement. However, the Florida Parent Trigger bill misleads by asserting that legislation will provide parents an "empowerment" over school policy input; the truth is they already have it. There is no substance to the claim that Parent Trigger legislation empowers parents and no evidence that the parent trigger process leads to improvements in parent engagement, student achievement, or narrowing the achievement gap.

Florida civil rights organizations want solutions to civil rights problems before bills are adopted that lead to further expansion of the charter school network. These problems include segregated school environments and targeted denial of access.

Racial and Ethnic Segregation

Recent studies have revealed that more than half of the state's charters, 54 percent, enroll two-thirds or more of a single race or ethnicity, compared with 44 percent for traditional public schools (http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2011-04-30/news/os-charter-schools-segregation). As noted by a 2010 National NAACP resolution on charter schools, segregation is not innovation. Applicants for charters are required to state their plans to foster racial balance. Clearly, this requirement has not solved the problem. Policy makers must craft other solutions before we are ready for too-rapid expansion of a model that brings back past errors.

Exclusion, Suspension, and Expulsion

Civil rights advocates are concerned about the impact of charter school policies on students’ due process rights in these semi-private schools and on their potential impact on the school-to-prison pipeline. What happens when working parents cannot meet charter school requirements for volunteer service in the schools as a condition of their children’s continued enrollment? What choice is available to parents of children whose average comportment does not meet exacting discipline codes? As Dr. Bruce Baker stated, “Traditional public schools cannot shed students who do not meet academic standards, comply with more general behavioral codes or social standards, such as parental obligations.” (http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/charter-schools-are-public-private-neither-both/ )

The extent to which our most vulnerable disabled students in Exceptional Student Education (ESE) programs are excluded from charter schools is striking. According to a StateImpact Florida/Miami Herald investigation of 14 school districts representing more than three-quarters of Florida’s total charter enrollment, most charter schools in Florida are failing to serve students with severe disabilities. According to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), 86 percent of charter schools statewide do not have any students classified as severely disabled. Students with severe disabilities served by charter schools are concentrated in a few specialized schools located in the state’s largest counties. As a result, severely disabled students in these charter schools are segregated from other students. Disabled students have no charter option in other parts of the state (http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2011/12/14/no-choice-florida-charter-schools-failing-to-serve-students-with-disabilities/).

The Parent Trigger bill would do nothing to bring about access to charter school choice for Florida’s half a million ESE students. Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado is an attorney, an elected official, the daughter of the City of Miami Mayor, and a broadcast journalist. It’s hard to imagine a more empowered parent. Nevertheless, when her daughter was diagnosed with autism, she was no longer permitted to continue to attend a charter school in Miami. As Regalado noted, “And if this happened to someone with influence, what happens to everyone else?”

The StateImpact Florida/Miami Heraldinvestigation found that less than 3 percent of Miami-Dade’s charter schools enroll students with severe disabilities. Regalado adds that charters also exclude “students with mild disabilities, like ADD, and students with behavioral issues” (http://stateimpact.npr.org/florida/2011/12/23/school-board-member-says-her-special-needs-daughter-was-forced-to-leave-a-charter-school/).

Data on the numbers of students who apply for admission to charter schools, along with the number denied admission and the reasons for exclusion, are not presented in the Florida Department of Education’s annual report on charter schools. Neither are data for the number and subgroup membership of students who are suspended, or expelled (or withdrawn after being counseled to go elsewhere), compared to traditional public schools. Such data should be collected and made public to foster policy development that ensures the civil rights of Florida’s students.

Rights of English Language Learners (ELLs)

Does the Florida charter school law secure the rights of ELL students in Florida to attend and participate equally with other students?

This question was posed to Roger Rice, Esq., Executive Director, Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy (META).

His response:

No, it falls short.  The Florida law does say that ELL student have an equal opportunity to enrollment but doesn’t provide that they will receive the services they need if they do enroll.  We know that many parents will not seek to enroll their student in a charter school that can’t serve them.   For example, Oregon’s charter school law is similar to Florida’s but is much clearer and stronger in protecting ELL students by requiring that: “Consistent with federal civil rights laws, public charter schools shall provide limited English proficient students with appropriate services designed to teach them English and the general curriculum”.  The Florida law should include similar ‘appropriate services consistent with federal civil rights laws’ type language.  Otherwise equal enrollment opportunity means opportunity to receive a program that doesn’t meet the needs of ELL students.

Florida’s quarter million ELLs should have the benefit and assurance in Florida law that public charters will provide appropriate services before there is further expansion of the state’s charter school network.

Conclusion

These inequities in charter school policy have existed for far too long, for almost two decades now since the first school was chartered in 1996. The Parent Trigger bill, and any others that could prematurely expand the number of charter schools in the state, should be voted down. To do otherwise would be to continue to perpetuate injustice and constitute a disservice to our students, their parents, taxpayers, and the state.

Contact Information:

Rosa Castro Feinberg, PH.D., LULAC Florida State Commissioner for Education Policy and Special Populations, rcf2012@att.net;
Shirley B. Johnson, Ph. D., Education Committee Chair, NAACP Florida State Conference, S2Jesus@aol.com

I have to head to campus in a few minutes, but I'll try to return to this topic on the blog by the end of the week.

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Sherman Dorn

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Sherman Dorn

Sherman Dorn is the Director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at the Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and editor of the Education Policy Analysis Archives. His research interests include how schools educate children they have treated poorly in the...