TALLAHASSEE -- A bill that empowers parents.
A bill that hands public schools over to private interests.
A red herring.
No matter what you think of the so-called parent trigger proposal, one thing was made clear Thursday: the bill will be among the most contentious of the Legislative session.
The proposal, which would allow parents to petition for dramatic changes at failing public schools, including having a charter-school company take over, won the approval of a House education subcommittee Thursday by an 8-5 vote along party lines.
It was also the subject of a memo from Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to Rep. Carlos Trujillo and Sen. Kelli Stargel pointing out some potential pitfalls. Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged Bennett’s memo had already made its way to his desk.
But perhaps most telling was the impassioned public testimony that preceded Thursday’s vote.
Advocates, including representatives from the Foundation for Florida’s Future, former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s education non-profit, argued that the legislation would give parents a more prominent role in local school systems.
“As you look across the state of Florida, what you will see [is that] a lot of parents really want to do something about their schools,” said former state Sen. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat involved in the charter school movement.
But parent groups, school districts and the teachers’ union slammed the bill, saying it was crafted for private education interests seeking to boost enrollment, receive additional money from the state, and assume control of taxpayer-funded school facilities.
“The Florida PTA feels very strongly that this is misleading the public and it could have devastating results to our kids,” said Dawn Steward, the organization’s vice president for education. “We want you to pull the bill, not the trigger.”
The House subcommittee on choice and innovation in education debated the proposal for 30 minutes before all eight Republicans voted it up.
“This is giving a tool to parents in failing schools,” said Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican.
Controversy seems to follow the parent trigger. The law is already on the books in at least seven states and up for consideration in Georgia and Kentucky. In California, efforts to convert traditional schools into charter schools have prompted bitter court battles and scathing editorials. Last year, a Hollywood film cast the legislation in a favorable light.
It sparked fireworks in Florida when it first surfaced during last year’s legislative session. Parent groups aligned themselves in opposition, prompting the Senate to kill the bill during a dramatic, last-day-of-session showdown.
This year, Bush and his foundation are determined to see the proposal through to Scott’s desk. During a recent trip to Tallahassee, the former governor told reporters he was confident the bill would become law.
The proposal has been watered down some from last year. The new proposal would give the local school district the right to approve the parents’ choice of reforms, which could also include converting the school to a district-managed turnaround school. In the case of a disagreement between the parents and the district, the state would make the final call.
The bill also requires school districts to notify parents when their child’s teacher is teaching out of his or her field of expertise, and to give parents information about alternative virtual learning options. And it prevents children from being assigned to ineffective teachers for two years in a row.