Hillsborough Teacher Union Head, Jean Clements, Rips Florida’s Parent Trigger Bill and School Grade Changes

Opponents of Florida’s education reform underway in the legislature will find out this morning they have an ally they probably didn’t realize they had.

That person is Hillsborough teacher union leader, Jean Clements, who by many had thought to have gone over to the dark side.  Clements had been widely criticized for her support for the Gates merit pay initiative in her district and her recent addition to the advisory board of the National Council on Teacher Quality. The later includes the likes of Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp and Joel Klein. Clements has changed all that with this mornings op-ed piece that appears in The Answer Sheet. Clements wrote this of Parent Trigger legislation and the Florida Board of Education’s new school grade formula:

These changes will immediately demoralize teachers, discourage students and their families and taint the great gains we have made in improving Florida’s public schools. Equally significant, the grading change will ensure that more schools are seen as failing, thereby giving additional opportunities for private companies and charter management organizations to take over schools, as provided for in the parent trigger bill.

The trigger bill and the Board of Education’s grade change, when considered together, constitute the education equivalent of a land grab. The changes to the grading system would guarantee that Florida’s schools, even those heretofore very successful by the state’s own definition, would be labeled as failures. The parent trigger bill would then allow corporations to take over the newly designated “failing schools.”

Politicians say they are doing this “for the children.” The real goal for some state politicians appears to be awarding favored business interests with state tax dollars while stripping a public institution of resources.

Private school operators see $30 billion in state funds and local property taxes as an untapped market. Private companies would not only get cash flow from every student captured in this process, they’d also get their hands on school land, buildings, equipment and other assets paid for by taxpayers.

Public schools educate all students. Private school operators can toss out students and parents who don’t fit their criteria, undermining the efforts of real reformers who work every day to transform diverse, inclusive schools.

The parent trigger law is misnamed as a “Parent Empowerment bill.” It should rightly be called the “Corporate Empowerment bill.”

Florida parents don’t want to see their children become pawns in a political game that benefits out-of-state interests and Tallahassee’s corporate friends at the expense of local public schools.

Before any state government pulls the trigger, it should carefully consider the consequences of hitting its target.

Clements’ position will stun the nation’s education reform rock stars – like Jeb Bush whom she mentions – as her addition to the NCTQ advisory board was indication that they felt she was one of them. Clements opposition to the two most Draconian reform measures of the current session is a potential game changer. At the very least, she’s greatly shifted the narrative on reform efforts in Florida.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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