Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, says he doesn’t know why his "parent trigger" bill is creating a partisan fight in the Capitol.
Yes, it’s supported by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, but it’s also popular with supporters of President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, he said.
"This legislation was drafted by President Obama's top advisers. It was drafted by President Clinton’s top advisers," he said on March 18, 2013, during the House Education Committee hearing on his bill. "Gov. Bush is a big supporter of this, so it’s not a partisan issue. I’m not sure why it’s turned into that."
We wondered if Trujillo was right about the roots of the parent trigger bill. Did state Democrats miss the bipartisanship memo? The bill in question is HB 867, "Parent Empowerment in Education." The law allows parents at failing schools to demand changes, including asking for public schools to be turned into charter schools.
Opponents say this power already exists under state and federal law, and teachers unions don’t like that public schools could be turned into charter schools. Supporters, like Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, said it gives parents at those schools a "legal seat at the table" in turning around a school.
California became the first state with a parent trigger law in 2010, and states including Texas and Indiana have followed in its footsteps. The nonprofit group Parent Revolution launched the California initiative and is supporting Trujillo’s bill.
Asked to support the claim, Trujillo’s legislative aide Alex Miranda pointed us to the executive director of Parent Revolution, Ben Austin. Austin played a role in drafting the original California legislation, which was introduced by California Democratic Sen. Gloria Romero. That legislation was used as a model for Florida.
Austin’s online biography says he has worked on several Democratic presidential campaigns and inside Clinton’s White House "in a variety of roles." Plus, he was "an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign," the website states.
We asked Parent Revolution for more details about Austin’s working relationship with the presidents, as well as seven other board members and staffers whose bios included Obama or Clinton ties.
Parent Revolution spokesman David Phelps told us the group designed California’s legislation to help that state qualify for a grant under Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. But he also said "the usual political definition of ‘top adviser’ " would not apply to their board members and staff.
"President Obama has spoken frequently (as has Education Secretary Duncan) about the need for parents to be full partners in the decision-making process around their children's education," Phelps said. "Parent trigger and our work at Parent Revolution is a proactive response to those Obama administration calls."
Phelps was not aware of Obama or Clinton publicly endorsing the measure. He also stressed that Florida is not using a carbon copy of California’s parent trigger law, as each state "has its own specific priorities and educational needs, and state legislators write bills accordingly."
We caught up with Pat DeTemple, Parent Revolution senior strategist. DeTemple winced a little when we told him Trujillo’s statement. "I don’t want to speak for Rep. Trujillo," he said. He touched on Austin’s "political" role in Clinton’s White House and ticked off a series of Austin’s Democratic credentials.
Okay, but does that make him a top adviser to either Clinton or Obama?
"No, no," DeTemple said. "I was a general election director for Barack, and I was not a top adviser to him either, you know?
Still, Trujillo has a point about the law attracting national Democratic support, even if Florida Democrats aren’t into it, DeTemple said. He pointed to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as examples of high-profile Democrats who support the concept, as well as Obama's former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Opponents of the parent trigger movement, such as Orlando parent advocacy group Fund Education Now, say talking up liberal credentials is an attempt by supporters of parent trigger "to blur political lines and to declare support from Democrats for this conservative free-market effort."
Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of Fund Education Now, stressed the parent trigger law was picked up as model legislation by the conservative, pro-business advocacy group American Legislative Exchange Council after California’s parent trigger law survived a legal challenge.
She called Trujillo’s Clinton/Obama claim an overreach.
"Ben Austin and Mike Trujillo each worked on Obama and Clinton campaigns," she said. "That does not mean that Obama asked to have the trigger law written, or that he supports it."
In trying to persuade Democrats to support his parent trigger bill, Trujillo said, "This legislation was drafted by President Obama's top advisers. It was drafted by President Clinton’s top advisers." He makes it sound as if the legislation were written in the West Wing.
Parent groups, unions and activists may disagree vehemently on the bill, but they sound in agreement on one thing: The concept was not drafted by "top advisers" to Clinton and Obama. The people who had a hand in creating the legislation would more accurately be described as supporters of Obama and Clinton, not "top advisers." We rate his statement False.