‘Parent trigger’ bill triggers passion, procedural maneuveringby Dara Kam | March 3rd, 2012
A controversial “parent trigger” bill backed by powerful GOP leaders and education reform icon Jeb Bush is headed to the Senate floor for a vote in the final week of the legislative session over the objections of the measure’s critics over the way it is being handled.
The Senate Budget Committee signed off on the bill (SB 1718), already passed by the Florida House, largely along partisan lines with a single Republican – Sen. Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach – joining Democrats in opposition.
Lynn and Democrats on the committee complained that GOP leaders were railroading the bill after Democrats and a cadre of Republicans led by Jack Latvala blocked the it from being yanked from the committee and sped to the Senate floor. Read about the Latvala-Thrasher leadership struggle – leaving its imprint on the final days of the legislative session – here, here and here.
Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St.Augustine, set two hours for the rare Saturday morning meeting to hear the bill. No one objected then, but that was before another measure was added to the agenda, eating up nearly 45 minutes this morning.
After Thrasher ordered a 9:59 “time certain” vote on the bill, the grumbling began.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, a former Senate president, asked that the time be extended to hear from audience members. The “Parent Empowerment” legislation is being pushed in 20 states by the Los Angeles-based “Parent Revolution” organization but is opposed in Florida by a coalition of parent-led groups including the PTA.
Thrasher said that was impossible because Senate rules prevented the meeting from being extended except on the Senate floor.
The irascible Lynn piped up, reminding Thrasher, a former House speaker close to Bush, of a questionable 4-3 committee vote she intended to challenge because she believed the vote came after another “time certain” vote by the Senate Education Committee this week. She did not fight the vote, and Thrasher ruled that it was legit.
This morning’s vote came after heated debate and after less than five minutes of public testimony during which a parent from Gainesville voiced her opposition.
After the votes were cast and he adjourned the meeting, Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, allowed members of the audience to continue the dialogue.
Shirley Ford, a Los Angeles parent and one of the founders of Parent Revolution who still works for the group, told the panel why Florida needs the process, approved in California by voters two years ago.
Lynn didn’t buy it. She pointed out that Florida has a variety of measures to help turn around failing schools, including vouchers that allow students to attend any school their parents choose. And, she said, Florida just last year launched a sweeping education reform that among other things did away with teacher tenure. It’s too early to know what the impact of those changes will have on low-performing schools, she argued.
In addition, the state Board of Education this week approved a new school grading system that will nearly triple the number of failing schools.
“For somebody from California to come here and tell us what we should be doing is a laugh and a half,” Lynn said after the meeting.
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich and her caucus will hold a press conference Monday morning before the floor session begins to voice their objections to the proposal, also opposed by the state teachers’ union.