From the Orlando Sentinel, By Bill Sublette
Imagine you live in a neighborhood with a school your community has called its own for years. A school you and your neighbors take great pride in and in which you've invested substantial time and effort. A school you sent your own children to, and one which you hope your children will choose to send their children to.
Your neighborhood school struggles, though, and a charter-school company sees an opportunity to add the school to its portfolio. So the company hires a political consultant and succeeds in convincing more than half the school's parents to sign a petition to turn the school over to the company.
After the school board refuses to grant the charter, the company appeals to Tallahassee, where it has influence, thanks to the political contributions it makes. The company convinces the state Board of Education to give it control of your neighborhood school.
And then, as another kick in the teeth, you learn that your neighborhood's children may no longer be able to attend their neighborhood school without first entering a lottery.
Sounds far-fetched? It's not if lawmakers pass, and the governor signs, the so-called "parent-trigger" bill, which is moving rapidly through the Legislature.
Supporters of the parent-trigger bill will argue that the plan is about nothing more than giving parents control over their child's education. That it is about giving parents a choice.
But there is much these advocates do not tell you.
They do not tell you once a charter-school company gains control of the neighborhood school, there is no mechanism to wrest control back if parents want to return to a traditional public school. The conversion is permanent unless the charter school earns multiple F grades.
They do not tell you state law prohibits geographic attendance zones for charter schools. That what was once a neighborhood school is now open to the entire county. Which means children living down the street from the school may now have to enter a lottery to get into the school.
They do not tell you many charter-school-management companies are for-profit and charge fees of 10 percent to 15 percent for their services. This guarantees their profit regardless of student performance.
Neither do they tell you local school boards are prohibited by law from limiting or capping charter-company fees and salaries, no matter how excessive.
They do not tell you that under the proposed parent-trigger law, the decision whether to allow your neighborhood school to convert to a charter school passes to the state Board of Education — a board made up entirely of political appointees.
The Orange County School Board supports choice and has the track record to prove it. OCPS students already have 31 charter schools, two thriving virtual schools, myriad transfer options and a booming home-school movement we support to choose from.
Many of our 31 charter schools are excellent. But none were created by closing your neighborhood school and giving public property and land to a for-profit charter-school company at the expense of our neighborhoods, our children and the taxpayers.
Orange County's taxpayers have invested more than $3 billion in public-school land, buildings and infrastructure. Neighborhood schools are your schools. They don't belong to the school board, the Legislature, the governor, or the state Board of Education. They certainly don't belong to a for-profit charter-school company.
They belong to you because you've paid for them through taxes on money you earned from hard work.
Please make sure our neighborhood schools stay your schools by urging the defeat of this bad legislation.
Bill Sublette is chairman of the Orange County School Board.