For the second year in a row, the Florida Senate killed a controversial “parent trigger” measure that would have given parents of students at failing schools a greater say in turning the schools around.
Six Republicans joined with the 14 Senate Democrats in the 20-20 tie vote after more than an hour of heated debate on the measure (HB 867).
Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and former school superintendent, said parents already have the ability to make their voices heard.
“The issue is how do we get parents interested in the options already available to them. This bill will not help that,” Montford said. “I hope a year form now…we’ll spend this much time and energy trying to find a way to get our parents meaningfully involved.”
The bill voted down on Tuesday was a watered-down version of a similar measure that died on a tie vote in the Senate last year.
The proposal would have allowed parents to sign a petition supporting specific turnaround options for schools that received an “F” grade two years in a row. But the Senate amended the bill yesterday afternoon, giving the school board the final say the turnaround options. A companion bill approved by the House, similar to last year’s plan, would have given the state Bpard of Education to choose the options, which include turning the school over to a private management company or for-profit charter school.
The state’s teachers unions and PTA groups opposed the bill.
“The second time around is just as sweet as the first,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said his city turned an “F” school into a “B” school while was Lake Worth mayor.
“Never once…did we think we should…hand it over to a corporation to run,” he said. The school’s grade improved not by “turning it over to some corporation,” Clemens said. “It was by getting involved.”
But Sen. David Simmons, who sponsored the amendment giving the school board the ultimate decision in what happens to the failing school, said Democrats were arguing against a bill that didn’t exist.
The bill was changed to “eviscerate the argument” that the measure “was a Trojan horse where the corporate organizations are going to take over.,” Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said. “That’s just simply not true.”
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, argued that the bill is about “one word – trust,” saying “we ought to trust the parents, the parents who are directly involved in these schools.”
But Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican, objected that Florida already has more choices to turn around the failing schools and the bill does not create any new ones.
“Not one parent ever called me to support this bill. And if it’s the “Parent Empowerment Act” then why is the PTA lobbying so heavily against this bill? I don’t know who these parents are…Why are we doing this?
I don’t know. Who benefits? I don’t know.”
GOP Sens. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Greg Evers, R-Baker; and Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, joined Detert in voting against the measure.
Visitors in the public gallery erupted in cheers after the tie vote, eliciting a stern rebuke from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
“If there are any more outbursts for or against any bill I will clear those galleries. You understand? Thank you,” Gaetz said.