Senate budget committee to meet Saturday morning for ‘parent trigger’ billby Dara Kam | March 2nd, 2012
Unable to withdraw a controversial ‘parent trigger’ bill approved by the Florida House yesterday, Senate GOP leaders instead scheduled an early-morning meeting Saturday to hear the measure, supported by former Gov. Jeb Bush and Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
The “Parent Empowerment” (SB 1718, HB 1191) would allow parents to determine the fate of troubled schools and convert them into charter schools or turn them over to private management companies. Parents could even reject school boards’ recommendations for low-performing turnarounds.
A coalition of parent groups, including the Florida PTA, oppose the measure, saying it makes parents at low-performing schools vulnerable to lobbying by for-profit charter schools and management companies.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was involved in a dispute in a Senate committee earlier this week. Critics of the proposal said a 4-3 vote on the bill came after the “time certain” ordered by Senate Education Appropriations Committee Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.
But Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican close to Bush, approved the vote and tried to withdraw the bill from the budget committee, which was supposed to hold its final meeting this afternoon.
Removing the bill from a committee and sending it to the floor requires a two-thirds majority vote. Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich objected, D-Weston, objected and asked for a vote. Democrats joined with a group of Republicans led by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, to kill the withdrawal with a 20-19 vote.
That prompted Thrasher to announce an unusual, 8 a.m. Saturday morning Budget Committee meeting to take up the bill.
“I think it’s important to a lot of members that we have a hearing on it,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said after the session ended shortly after noon.
Latvala said he had concerns about the measure’s fiscal impact because, with new grading formula approved by the state Board of Education this week, many more schools may be deemed failing and be eligible for the parent takeovers and become targets of the for-profit charter school industry.
“It’s going to be like union-organizing with petition cards, going to parents and getting them to sign,” the perspicacious Latvala said. “I know how the political process works and they can go out and get signatures. Then they can just add to their empires. I think it needs to be carefully looked at…It’s within our rights to require it to go through all the committees that it’s assigned to.”
But Thrasher – Latvala’s nemesis in a Senate leadership struggle – defended the measure.
“Look, parents want their kids to have a good education. And some people have a different view of where that should take place or how it should take place. And I don’t fault them for that. Any more than I fault folks who believe passionately in the public school system,” he said.