By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
A bill that would allow parents to decide the fate of failing public schools — which could mean turning a troubled public school into a charter school — will come up for consideration in the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature.
Last year, the controversial bill sparked a heated debate and an onslaught of lobbying from out-of-state groups and even former Gov. Jeb Bush. The bill narrowly failed on the state Senate floor with a 20-20 vote.
However, it might be a little easier to pass the bill this time around.
Part of the reason advocates are taking another stab at what they prefer to call the “parent empowerment” law is because last year’s tie vote that killed the bill was partially blamed on in-fighting among Republican senators. However, there has since been turnover in both chambers with Democrats gaining seats. That makes “parent trigger” an even tougher battle this session.
Sen.Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, filed SB 862 today. It is similar to the final version of last year’s failed SB 1718. The proposal would allow parents at failing schools to choose a turnaround strategy for the school by signing a petition. One option, of course, is to convert the school into a charter school.
SB 862 allows local school boards to choose the option it thinks is best for students even if they disagree with what parents indicated. However, the state Board of Education can override that and side with parents. Stargel said she agreed to sponsored the legislation in the Senate (a House version is expected soon) because as a parent of five chilren she believes in its mission.
Those are just some of the reasons the bill eventually failed that year.
As The Washington Post reported, the bill also wasn’t popular among parents, even though it was sold by conservative members of the legislature as a way to give parents power over their children’s schools.
According to the Post:
“If we’ve got a bill called the parent empowerment bill, then why is the PTA against the bill?” Florida state Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) asked.
The answer is that Florida parents didn’t want it, because they didn’t see it as a parent empowerment bill. Instead, they thought that the bill, known as the “parent trigger,” would lead to the takeover of public schools by for-profit charter management companies and other corporate interests.
Not a single major Florida parent organization supported the bill, including the PTA, which is what Detert was referring to during debate on the hotly contested legislation before the 20 to 20 vote effectively killed it. Detert has supported many Republican school reforms opposed by Democrats in Florida, but this act went too far for her.
“The charter people will walk right in and take over our buildings … and I don’t know how you’re going to explain that to our taxpayers,” she said, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Although many of the Republican state Senators who decided the bill’s ill-fate last year have been term-limited, it is not entirely a sure thing that the bill has a better chance of passing in 2013. In November’s election, Democrats picked up seats in the state Senate, which does not bode well for the bill.
Last year, Florida was one of about 20 states that considered a so-called “parent trigger” bill. The first city to test a similar system was in California. A pro-charter school organization, which had a lot to gain through the conversion of public schools into charter schools, devised the law.
Parent Revolution, which was worked to pass these types of laws throughout the country, pushed for Florida’s bill last year along with Bush’s well-funded Foundation for Excellence in Education.