Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?

parent trigger’

Senate tie vote kills parent trigger for the second year

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 by Dara Kam

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.

Jeb Bush back at Capitol, urging lawmakers, “Be bold”

Thursday, February 14th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Former Gov. Jeb Bush returned Thursday to the Florida Capitol for one of his few visits since his two terms as chief executive ended six years ago.

Bush, who now leads foundations that advance education policies similar to those he signed into law as governor, met behind closed doors with House and Senate members, frequently posing for pictures with lawmakers. Many had entered the Legislature since Bush left office.

Bush, however, insisted he came to Tallahassee without specific proposals to push.

“We provide assistance to people who want to advocate education reform policies, the Legislature is about ready to start,” Bush said outside Senate President Don Gaetz’s office. “I’m here to say hello to some friends and advance the cause of rising student achievement.”

Bush said he conveyed identical messages to lawmakers he encountered.

“Be big. Be bold. Fill the space,” Bush said.

Although Bush’s stop at the Capitol was his first since 2010, he still has plenty of allies. Fellow Republican, Gov. Rick Scott, is promoting changes to expand enrollment in charter schools.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has pushing for expanding online education in Florida, a concept now being studied by state university officials. He also has created a new education Choice and Innovation Subcommittee charged with exploring more charter-, virtual- and home-school options.

Legislation introduced this week in the Senate also would let parents in low-performing schools call for a private-management company to take over. A similar “parent trigger” bill died on a 20-20 vote last year in the Senate. But Bush said his Foundation for Excellence in Education, which advocates nationwide, is a strong proponent of the approach.

“It’s a pretty simple law. It says that if you’re in a failing school, parents ought to have the ability, if a majority want to, to have a say — simply a say — in providing advice on what structure a failing school should take,” Bush said. “That doesn’t say…they can convert to a charter school or something else. It just simply says, parents’ voice matters. If that’s a radical idea in America today, then we’re in a heap of trouble.”

“I think it’ll pass,” Bush said.

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett, who adheres to Bush’s parental choice concepts, has been a frequent speaker at the former governor’s foundation meetings. Bennett is Florida’s third education commissioner in two years.

Gaetz, however, said that in their meeting, he and Bush didn’t speak about the parent trigger idea.

“We talked generally about where education policy was going in this country, we talked about online education,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz acknowledged that the pair shared concerns about deadlines that are nearing for many state and national education efforts. Among them, is the movement in Florida away from FCAT testing toward standards based on a common core curriculum, and the linking of teacher salaries to student performance.

“I told him we have a lot of reform that has been sort of shot off like rockets…and it’s all coming down from the sky now in the same place at the same time,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz said that Bush’s response was, “You need leadership. He sort of looked at me like, ‘Gaetz, do your job.’”

A Palm Beach Post analysis showed charter school, voucher and online education companies poured more than $2 million into last fall’s political campaigns, to primarily those of Republicans again demanding more alternatives to traditional public schools.

A deeply ideological battle is expected to unfold at Florida’s Capitol in coming months, with vast amounts of taxpayer dollars at stake. Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education also draws a portion of its financing from the industry active in state campaigns.

Along with his Tallahassee stop, Bush is about to launch a book tour to coincide with the March 5 publishing of his book, Immigration Wars, written with Clint Bolick, a constitutional lawyer with the Goldwater Institute in Arizona. The book includes recommendations for easing the nation’s immigration problems.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Bush protege, has already advanced broad outlines for an immigration reform effort. Bush and Rubio are both frequently talked of as possible 2016 Republican presidential contenders.

Gaetz, who said he was courted by Bush to run for office in the mid-1990s, said he remains a Bush fan and is urging he get ready for the early caucus and primary states.

“I asked him three times, ‘when the bus is leaving for Iowa, and that I want to be on the bus,’” Gaetz said. “He laughed. But he didn’t say ‘no.’

Spokeswoman for group pushing ‘parent trigger’ going to work for Obama campaign in California

Friday, April 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The spokeswoman of the California-based Parent Revolution group that pushed a controversial “parent trigger” bill in Florida is going to work for President Obama’s reelection campaign as the state spokeswoman.

Linda Serrato sent an e-mail saying she’ll start for Obama’s California campaign next week.

Serrato’s going to work for the Democratic incumbent after Florida Democrats – and some moderate Senate Republicans – excoriated the measure, also backed by former Gov. Jeb Bush. The parent trigger measure quickly evolved into a contentious battle over letting parents take over failing schools, with Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich taking the lead in fighting against it.

The measure died on a tie vote on the final day of the legislative session in March (not a single Senate Democrat voted in favor of the measure and just two Dems gave it a thumbs up in the House) but not before fiery messaging from Parent Revolution and opponents of the bill, including a coalition of Florida parent groups, the PTA among them.

“I feel honored to have worked with this dedicated, energetic and scrappy team. I have been proud to be a part of Parent Revolution’s work empowering parents to organize their communities,” Serrato wrote in an e-mail message announcing her departure.

Senate kills controversial ‘parent trigger’ measure on tie vote

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A split Senate shot down a controversial “parent trigger” bill on a 20-20 tie vote on the final day of the legislative session in a defeat for Senate GOP leaders, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

It’s at least the second high-profile measure backed by Haridopolos and his leadership team defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, who also banded together to stop a prison privatization measure earlier this session.

The Senate spent an hour debate the measure (SB 1718), sponsored by Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, and half an hour on questions before taking a vote. The vote was expected to be so close that Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, delayed it for moments until all 40 senators were in the chamber.

The plan, heavily lobbied by California-based “Parent Revolution” and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation, would have given parents the ability to determine whether low-performing schools should become charter schools or be taken over by for-profit management companies if more than 50 percent of parents whose children attend the schools sign petitions.

Critics said the process was riddled with problems and made parents at the failing schools vulnerable to manipulation by for-profit charter companies. A coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA oppose the proposal.

“I’m tired and weary. I’m tired of sound bites and gimmicks that don’t do anything. Parent trigger. Parent revolution. Parent empowerment. Sound bites that mean nothing,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who called the proposal “fraught with risk.”

Three other states – California, Texas and Miss., – have instituted the “Parent Empowerment” process and 20 other states are considering similar legislation this summer.

But Venice Repubican Nancy Detert, a former Sarasota County school board member, said Florida has already enacted education reforms, many of them promoted by Bush, including a major overhaul just last year.

“We’ve been changing everything year after year after year. And we never give it time to gel,” Detert said. “Why do we want to keep throwing everybody in the bag and shaking it up…I feel so sorry for our teachers and students. They are on an island in a sea of chaos.”

But Benacquisto said the bill would empower parents who might feel helpless when their children are forced to go to school each day in a school with an “F” grade.

“What this bill does at its core is look at a system that already exists to address failing schools in our community and say that we acknowledge the legiimatecy of a parent’s voice when it comes to choosing what is already destined to be chosen,” she said.

Senators take aim at parent trigger

Thursday, March 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Senate is poised to close out the 2012 legislative session with a fiery debate over a controversial measure that would let parents decide the fate of failing schools after opponents scored several victories with amendments to the “parent trigger” bill late Thursday evening.

The proposal, based on one pushed in California by the “Parent Revolution,” would allow parents to decide on a turnaround option for schools graded “F” for at least three years in a row if more than 50 percent of parents sign petitions.

The petition process received the most attention Thursday night from opponents, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who say the signature-gathering is rife for shenanigans as experienced in California, which became the first in the nation with its “Parent Empowerment” proposition two years ago.

The parent trigger plan is backed by GOP leaders including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Several Los Angles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists, in the Capitol for weeks advocating for the proposal, were in the public gallery during a heated debate over the bill (SB 1718) Thursday night.

Opponents include teachers unions and a coalition of Florida parent-led groups including the PTA, also watching the two-hour debate from the gallery. The measure has already flared emotions and procedural maneuvering in the Senate.

Proponents beat down several amendments on 21-19 votes – including one that would have criminalized bribing parents to sign the petitions – indicating Friday’s vote will be close. But opponents, including Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, said they believe they have enough votes to kill the measure on a 20-20 tie.

The anti-parent trigger group repeatedly tried to make changes to the signature-gathering process that would have put it on a par with petition-gathering requirements included in a controversial election law passed last year and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

One change would have made it a misdemeanor to take or offer a bribe in exchange for a signature and made it a misdemeanor to falsify signatures. But opponents of that amendment called it overreaching, eliciting outrage from Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

“Are you kidding me? We put this in an election year last year people. We did this. But now it’s overreaching. It’s undemocratic. Are you kidding me?” Smith said. The amendment was defeated on a 21-19 vote.

But Rich scored a win with an amendment requiring that signatures be valid, undoing language in the original bill sponsored by Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers that would have allowed signatures submitted after the validation period to be accepted.

“If you don’t vote for this amendment, it means you condone fraud,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Accusations of fraudulent signatures and coercion of parents are plaguing a parent trigger effort at a Mojave Desert school in California, where both sides are accusing each other of wrongdoing and a judge is considering open an investigation.

The Florida proposal would give parents a say in federal turnaround options for failing schools that include conversion into profit or non-profit charter schools or hiring for-profit management company to take them over, which critics say is part of an overall effort to privatize Florida’s public schools.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, failed to convince a majority to sign off on her plan requiring the charter schools to pay rent to school districts if they take over a failing school.

But she rallied enough votes to include a provision banning foreign nationals from owning or operating the charter schools.

Before the floor session wrapped up at 10 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner railed against his colleagues for objecting to giving parents more control over poor-performing schools.

“I know it’s late. And I know everybody’s emotional. But keep in mind what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about parents that are sending their children every day to an F school. Every day to an F school,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. “We’ve gotten off track here a little bit…These are F schools. These are just parents. Parents that want an opportunity to have their children go to a better school. We want to put a misdemeanor on them?”

Speaking against the bill, Sen. Larcenia Bullard invoked hanging chads, fraudulent petition-gathering campaigns in which dead people’s names were signed on petitions and other horribles.

“Trigger bill is double-barrel Glock,” Bullard, R-Miami, said.

Jeb Bush foundation using ‘parent trigger’ to trigger donations

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The controversial “Parent Empowerment” proposal isn’t just causing a bipartisan kerfuffle in the Senate where critics say the measure is a cash cow for for-profit charter schools and private management companies.

But the “parent trigger” measure could also make hay for Gov. Jeb Bush’s non-profit Foundation for Florida’s Future. Bush is backing the bill, pushed by Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution and education reformer Michelle Rhee and fiercely opposed by a teachers’ unions and a Florida coalition of parent-led groups, including the PTA.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of Bush’s Foundation, sent out a blast e-mail asking supporters to contact their senators to urge them to vote for the bill. But that wasn’t all.

“Additionally, won’t you help us in our efforts to fight those opposed to parents’ rights? Please consider making a one-time contribution of $500 or $1,000 or a monthly contribution of $50 or $100 to the Foundation for Florida’s Future. With your support, we can ensure that parents have representation and more options as it relates to their child’s education,” Levesque wrote.

Levesque sent out the missive in response to a blast message from left-leaning Progess Florida condemning the bill.

According to the exchange, the forces lining up on either side of the issue range from Koch brothers to the League of Women Voters.

“Anti-public school extremists in the Florida Senate are trying to pull a fast one, and we need your help right now,” the Progress Florida e-mail began. “So, if not parent groups, who is really behind this latest attack on public schools? According to Parents Across America “model legislation based on the Parent Trigger has been written and promoted by ALEC, the shadowy organization backed by the Koch brothers that has a radical right-wing agenda.” And who profits? Not parents and students. No, the ones who profit are unaccountable corporate charter school operators who aren’t held to the same standards as public schools and don’t necessarily have the best interests of students, parents or teachers at heart.

That prompted the e-mail from Levesque:

“Yesterday, the Foundation for Florida’s Future tweeted “Conspiracy theories and outright lies—who knew #edreform would be so exciting?” This was in response to emails, like the one below, that are being sent in opposition to the Parent Empowerment Act. You will not find the vitriol in the below email surprising. Despite incredible successes over the past 10 years, those who seek to protect the status quo are as passionate as ever. This includes the League of Women Voters, AFL-CIO, Florida Education Association and local affiliates such as Fund Education Now and Save our Schools.”

The Senate is set to take up the measure on Thursday and an ugly committee meeting – along with the above exchange – set the stage for what will likely be a heated debate before a vote on Friday.

Session likely to end on a sour note – again

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A testy Senate Special Order Committee meeting over a controversial “parent trigger” measure late Tuesday night set the stage for what will likely be an ugly end to the legislative session for the second year in a row.

But in a departure from the more typical animosity between the House and Senate, Senators can expect intra-cameral hard feelings before Friday’s sine die.

Intense bipartisan wrangling over the parent trigger measure peaked Tuesday night when Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, and Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich tried to remove the proposal (SB 1718) from a list of more than 50 measures being sent to the floor on special order on Thursday.

But committee chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, backed up by Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner and Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, refused to grant the pair the option of voting solely against the “Parent Empowerment” measure, which they both oppose.

Near the end of the meeting, Lynn repeatedly tried to ask Thrasher to allow her to vote no on the bill. An increasingly angry Thrasher finally cut Lynn off and, speaking over her, ordered the vote on the entire package, which passed by an unusual 4-3 vote, setting the “special order” calendar for Thursday. Lynn, Rich and Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, rejected the entire list rather than sign off on the parent trigger bill.

Lynn called the block vote a “political maneuver” that was “inappropriate and incorrect.”

But Gardiner, R-Orlando, chimed in, reminding Lynn that it was a procedural maneuver on the part of a bipartisan coalition led by Rich and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, that kept the measure from being withdrawn from a committee and sent to the Senate floor and instead required a special – and very rare – Saturday morning budget meeting to move the bill along. (Thrasher and Gardiner are an odd coalition, considering they are locked in a fight over the 2014-2016 Senate presidency.)

Gaetz, R-Niceville, agreed, accusing the bipartisan group of an “effort to stymie the process so the bill could not get to the floor.”

(more…)

Parents, Democrats bash ‘parent trigger’ proposal

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A coalition of parent-led groups, including the Florida PTA, and Democrats bashed a fast-tracked “parent trigger” proposal that would let parents at failing schools determine their fate.

The bill “has everything with laying the groundwork for the hostile, corporate takeover of public schools throughout Florida, a direct attack on public education,” Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston said at a press conference this morning.

Before the event began, Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution lobbyists handed out press releases asserting that national Democrats support the controversial measure. The California group called opponents “defenders of the status quo” and accused the Florida Education Association of invoking “new boogeymen” in “an attempt to confuse parents and political observers.” The “parent trigger” is now in place in first-in-the-nation California, Texas and Mississippi.

In those states, Democrats including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have favored the plan. The at-time unctuous, election-year parent trigger debate is pitting teachers’ unions and parent groups against charter schools and for-profit management companies throughout the nation.

At least 20 states, including Florida, are now considering “Parent Empowerment” legislation. The business-backed, conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has crafted model bills similar to the one (SB 1718, HB 1191) now on its way to the Senate floor in Florida; the House approved an identical measure last week along partisan lines. The Florida proposal is being pushed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and his education foundation, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and other GOP leaders.

(more…)

Senate budget committee to meet Saturday morning for ‘parent trigger’ bill

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

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.

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories
Categories
Archives