state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, led a group of Republicans who joined Democrats in voting against the "parent trigger" bill. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, led a group of Republicans who joined Democrats in voting against the “parent trigger” bill. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

In a repeat of last year, the Florida Senate voted down the controversial “parent trigger” bill in a tie vote this week.

The “parent trigger” bill would have created a petition process for parents to turn a public school into a charter school. Similar legislation has inspired controversy in California and has been touted by Jeb Bush’s education foundation, which lobbies for market solutions to improve schools.

Supporters of the parent trigger bill have said it would give power to the parents of students in low-performing schools. However, opponents argue that a parent trigger is nothing more than a corporate money grab.

The Florida Legislature’s parent trigger bill, which was supported by Republicans, had already passed in the GOP-led Florida House. The more moderate Florida Senate, however, had concerns about the bill.

According to the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Timesstate Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, led a group of Republicans who joined Democrats in voting against the bill:

Detert argued that the legislation would give more taxpayer dollars to charter-school management companies, and pointed to examples of financial mismanagement at charter schools across the state.

The arguments persuaded [Miguel] Diaz de la Portilla, [Greg] Evers, [Rene] Garcia and [Jack] Latvala to vote against the bill, despite having voted for it last year.

“Sen. Detert was very persuasive,” Latvala said. “I didn’t see any need for the legislation.”

The Florida Current reported that Detert believed strongly that the bill would benefit corporate interests over the interests of Florida’s students:

“What we have here is an invasion by corporate America; it really is. I mean I’m a Republican here to give you the business point of view,” said Detert, who in debate reviewed 15 years of education reforms passed by the Legislature, including this session, and said plenty of choices exist in the public school system.

“If it is the parent empowerment act then why is the PTA lobbying so heavily against this bill? And raise your hand if you’ve ever seen a failing school with active parents. I haven’t seen it, sorry. So who benefits, I don’t know. Why are we doing this, I don’t know,” Detert said.

It was the second day in a row that Detert delivered a body slam to the proposal. Monday she withdrew a series of amendments saying that the bill was in such bad shape she wasn’t even going to bother to try to fix it.

Senators also pointed out during a discussion before the final vote that there are already ways for parents to appeal to their local school board and convert a public school to a charter school. However, under current law, half of the school’s teachers would have to support the change.

Finally,the greatest amount of controversy seemed to come from where the bill was receiving support.

According to the Herald/Times:

Last week, a pro-trigger video surfaced, purporting to be produced by a grass roots group known as the Sunshine Parents. It later came to light that the video was produced by Parent Revolution, the California organization that has been using its resources to promote parent trigger laws nationwide. What’s more, the Sunshine Parents were found to have strong ties to Bush’s education foundation.

Simultaneously, questions emerged about an online petition allegedly signed by 1,300 Florida residents in support of the trigger. The Times/Herald reached 360 of the people whose names appeared on the document; 42 denied having signed it and 10 said they were uncertain if the signature was their own.

The education nonprofit StudentsFirst has said the signatures are authentic. Still, the petitions and the Sunshine Parents were used against the bill during Tuesday’s debate on the Senate floor.

While Bush and lobbyists from his education foundation were vocal about the need for such a bill, few lawmakers reported having parents in their districts who supported the bill. The Parent Teacher Association and the state’s teachers union lobbied against the legislation.