Failing School Turnaround Bill Starts Moving In The Senate
April 2, 2013
A bill giving parents more power to decide the fate of failing schools returned to the chamber that defeated it last year, passing the Senate Education Committee on a party-line vote that previewed the fight to come.
The legislation (SB 862) — commonly known as the “parent trigger” bill — passed the panel on the 6-3 vote one day before the House is expected to take up its version of the measure.
It is the second attempt for supporters of the bill, which would allow parents to petition their school district to consider a specific turnaround option for a school that receives an “F” on the state report card for two consecutive years. If the district rejects the parents’ plan in favor of another one, the State Board of Education would choose which plan would be implemented. That board currently approves a district’s plan to overhaul failing schools.
Last year, the legislation died on the Senate floor on a tie vote. But many of the senators who voted against it are gone, having been replaced in some cases by lawmakers who are seen as more willing to support the bill.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, the Lakeland Republican sponsoring the bill, also said after the committee’s vote that this year’s version keeps many of the compromises approved last year to try to push the bill through.
“So I think we have much more support, not as many tweaks necessary,” she said. “I think a lot of what happened last year might have been more political than on the policy of the bill.”
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, said the legislation was “last year’s homework.” But Sachs, who was part of the effort to kill the bill in 2012, wouldn’t directly address the perception that a more conservative Senate would support the bill.
“I think that the Senate is still the more deliberative body of the two,” she said.
The meeting had much of the same emotion that took center stage in last year’s battle. Critics say the measure is meant to allow for-profit charter school companies to bypass school boards and run sophisticated campaigns encouraging parents to sign a charter-friendly petition.
“This bill is a cynical political device,” said Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of the advocacy group Fund Education Now. “It empowers us to do the grunt work, then mutes our voice.”
But supporters have said that parents should have a right to determine what happens with the future of their children.
“This is an option that is a statement by the parents within those failing schools that they see a problem, and they have a right to suggest a solution,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland.
The House version of the bill (HB 867) has moved more quickly, and the chamber will begin considering it on Tuesday. That could clear the way for a vote as soon as the following House session, currently scheduled for Thursday.
It is expected to be approved.
By The News Service of Florida