Lawmakers and parent advocates who played a crucial role in the passage last year of parent empowerment legislation reacted with outrage and concern Thursday to a PowerPoint presentation by a national teachers union.
The American Federation of Teachers presentation, "How Connecticut Diffused The Parent Trigger," outlined how the union pressured state legislators to kill the bill, dragged the Connecticut Education Association "along kicking and screaming" to a compromise, and ultimately "stopped the parent trigger and turned it into a vehicle for collaborative success."
The presentation, given by an AFT lobbyist at a professional development conference last month in Washington, D.C., was later posted on the union's website; it was discovered locally after being picked up by the blog DropoutNation, which reports on education reform.
Under the heading of "Karma," the presentation also noted that state Rep. Jason Bartlett, the original parent trigger bill's chief legislative proponent, lost his 2010 re-election bid. Also, the presentation noted, state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chair of the legislature's education committee, lost his bid for the House majority leader's position and fractured his relationship with the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on education issues as a result of the union's efforts.
Bartlett said Thursday that he was disappointed the Connecticut chapter of the AFT, which had publicly endorsed him, apparently worked behind the scenes for his defeat.
"[AFT] knocked me out, but in the end we gave parents power," Bartlett said. "We gave them power under statute."
But not the kind of power that parent advocates and members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus had been seeking. They wanted legislation modeled after California's "parent trigger" law that would give 51 percent of the parents at a failing school who signed a petition the ability to enact change, including closing the school or replacing teachers and administrators.
The Connecticut law calls for parents to hold the majority of seats on school governance councils. If their school hasn't made progress for three consecutive years under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, they can vote to recommend changes, including the reconstitution of schools.
The PowerPoint presentation also pointed out that the governance councils "are advisory and do not have true governing authority."
Gwen Samuel, founder of the Connecticut Parents Union and former chairwoman of the State of Black CT Alliance, said Thursday that the AFT is underestimating the power that the statute can bring to changing schools that are failing.
"Parents do have more power and [the union] is going to feel it," she said.
Nevertheless, Samuel said, she "was just floored" by the PowerPoint presentation. "I'm concerned that they were so bold. This screams, 'I'm untouchable.' "
Samuel said she was also worried that the presentation's revela-tions could hurt the relationship between parents and teachers.
"Good teachers are going to get a bum rap," she said, adding that she is calling for a meeting with national AFT President Randi Weingarten to discuss the issue. Samuel also is advising parents to call for meetings with their local AFT representatives.
The PowerPoint presentation on AFT's website was first picked up and posted by RiShawn Biddle on his DropoutNation blog. It has since been removed from AFT's website. In a statement on its website, the union has distanced itself from the presentation, saying that it did not reflect its position.
AFT Connecticut communications director Eric Bailey said Thursday that the AFT was "proud of the collaborative work we did to bring about legislation that gives parents a meaningful voice through parent-teacher councils in improving public education."
Bailey said that as with most legislation, not everyone saw eye-to-eye and that the legislature determined that the parent trigger was not the best way to go.
State Rep. Doug McCrory, a member of the legislature's education committee, said Thursday that the revelations contained in the presentation have a silver lining.
"It shows that even though they did all that, we still got something good for our kids," McCrory said.
McCrory said this could come back to haunt the teachers union when it lobbies for future legislation, but Bartlett sees it differently.
"The message to legislators is, 'Cross us and we'll take you out,' " he said. "Subconsciously, legislators have to think about that."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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