Teachers would grade not just students, but the students' parents, too, under a bill that cleared its first House committee Wednesday on a party-line vote.
The measure, which gained national attention when it was filed last year, would have teachers of students up through grade 5 evaluate each parent's involvement in their kids' education, and require districts to report on parental involvement to the state.
"Studies have shown that the most important thing in the life of a child is the parent," bill sponsor Rep. Kelli Stargel said. "We've done a lot in education to focus on making sure we have quality and high standards. But all of those things are only going to be as successful as the input and the involvement of the parent."
The Lakeland Republican said she's gotten feedback from many teachers who like the idea of being able to grade parents.
Florida has been assigning schools and districts letter grades for more than a decade. Last year, legislators approved a new law linking teacher pay in part to how students perform on tests.
But during that debate over merit pay, many teachers complained that often a student's performance is helped or hindered more by their parents than by anything the teacher does. Essentially, many said, lawmakers were making it so that teachers could be limited in their ability to get pay raises by the bad, or indifferent, parenting of the students they teach -- while making higher pay available to teachers who happen to teach kids with good parents.
Under the proposal, HB 543, a teacher would be able to rate a parent on a scale of satisfactory to unsatisfactory, based on a child's attendance, whether the parent has signed all of the emergency contact forms and whether the parent has responded to requests for meetings or communications. Only the parents of elementary school students would receive the rating, and it would be given to parents along with their child's report cards.
"It's a difficult situation, because we have free public education, and we can't demand too terribly much of our parents," said Stargel, whose five children have gone to public schools. "That's why there are no repercussions in the bill. And I can't punish a parent for not doing something."
The bill was approved 10-3 Wednesday in the House K-20 Competitiveness Committee, but has several more stops before the floor. A Senate companion bill carried by Steven Wise, R-Jacksonville, has not had any committee hearings yet.
The measure has the support of parents like Christy Crump who has two daughters enrolled in public schools in Leon County.
"I think it's wonderful, because I would get an A-plus," Crump said. "Parental involvement is extremely important. The first thing we tell a teacher is, 'We know what your job is, but we also know what our job is.' It's not just the teacher's responsibility."
While that's been an argument long held by teachers' groups in opposition to efforts to more closely tie pay to student performance, the state's largest teacher union opposes the Stargel bill.
Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow said while his group may agree with the general idea of trying to foster better parental involvement in education, the union is worried that the information used to grade parents would also be used against teachers.
"We're concerned that it's going to give the department another way to grade schools and disparage public education," Pudlow said.
The bill is opposed by some Democrats, including Rep. Gwendolyn Clarke-Reed, a former teacher.
"I just do not like to put everyone in the same box. Sometimes there's an involvement with parents that we don't understand, but the child and the parent understand," said Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach. "So I just don't subscribe to the idea of grading parents,"