Education activists demanded an apology from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a conference call with reporters this afternoon.
The activists were smarting over a presentation an AFT lobbyist had given at the union’s national conference in July. The presentation detailed how the organization’s Connecticut chapter defeated a proposed “parent trigger” law in the state legislature in 2010. It explained that the union kept parents away from the bargaining table and agreed to set up “school governance councils,” which possessed only the ability to recommend changes — unlike the trigger law, which would have given a majority of parents in a district the ability to force changes in school management.
During the call, organized by Parent Revolution, the host explained that the participants were good liberals undeserving of such trickery.
“We are progressives,” said Ben Austin, executive director of PR. “We support card check for every single worker in America. All we’re saying is every single parent in America deserves those same rights.” Accompanied by representatives of “parent unions” from Texas, New York, and Connecticut, Austin argued that theirs was an effort to give parents collective-bargaining power in school districts.
Because their philosophy was so harmonious with the union movement, Austin said, it was shocking to see the AFT presentation: “We request an apology because this [presentation] advocates for a cynical strategy to dis-empower parents — to trick parents into thinking they have power when they actually do not.”
Gloria Romero, a former California state senator, who had supported a parent-trigger law in the Golden State, had a few more demands. Because she was named in the presentation as one of the “players” whom the AFT had researched, Romero demanded that the union hand over its file on her.
“I want to see the lesson plan on me,” Romero said.
During the question-and-answer session, National Review Online asked the participants if they supported education reforms that would allow parents to choose their children’s schools — e.g. vouchers, charter schools, etc. — in light of AFT’s behavior. Even if these parent-trigger plans became law, parents would have to run political campaigns against trained professionals to get the required signatures. What if only 49 percent of parents were dissatisfied with the school’s management — not 51 percent as required by the legislation? Why not give that 49 percent more options?
“We are very supportive of choice within the public-school system,” Austin replied. “We are opposed to vouchers because we support a public-education system.”
In addition, Austin argued, “The value of the parent trigger is in the unionization of parents. It forces parents to work together to find common ground and to understand that parents across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic boundaries have way more in common with each other than the defenders of the status quo.”
Sounding an independent note, Gwen Samuel, founder of Connecticut Parents Union, said, “Our whole state should have choice. It doesn’t matter what type of school you are: If you receive public dollars, you should be held to high standards. We are 100 percent behind choice as long as there effective choices and they are meeting the needs of children.”