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Parent Trigger Bill Fails in Florida Senate

by guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa

A controversial Florida bill that would have let parents petition for schools deemed to be failing by the state to be converted into charters or otherwise overhauled failed in the Florida Senate today, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

A tie vote did not go to the "runner" in this case: The 20-20 vote in the Senate Friday afternoon meant that the bill died, after being passed by the House.

The bill was modeled on California's "parent trigger" law and had the support of Republicans in the state, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, as well as former Gov. Jeb Bush. They argued that the bill would empower parents to help their local schools improve. A majority of parents for a school would have had to sign a petition in order for any changes to occur.

StudentsFirst, the national organization run by former District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, had circulated a petition aimed at boosting support for the Florida parent trigger law, as my colleague Sean Cavanagh reported in February. State supporters of the bill said it was intended to force local school officials to take parents' ideas seriously, not to force one model for improving a school.

But eight Republicans joined 12 Democrats in voting against the measure, the Sentinel reported. Opponents pointed to the fact that PTA groups were against the measure, and some expressed concern that the law would merely serve as a mechanism for for-profit charter school operators to gain market share in Florida, while pitting parents against parents.

Ten days ago, before the Florida PTA mobilized people against the bill, state PTA president Charles Derexson said he thought the bill would pass.

"The parents of the Florida PTA 'pulled the trigger' on a very bad bill," Derexson said.

Concerns in general centered on the fear that outside organizations would really end up guiding efforts to fix struggling schools.

"The problem was, they didn't bother to ask the parents what power they needed," said Derexson, who added that he expects the "parent trigger" proposal to be back next year.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for one of the parent-trigger law's prominent backers, the Foundation for Florida's Future, said she anticipates that the issue will continue to be a priority for the group, which is led by Bush.

This year was the first time the parent trigger came up for a policy debate in the legislature, said Jaryn Emhof, speaking on behalf of the foundation, and the first time that many lawmakers supported the mission of empowering parents to help their struggling schools.

She suggested that the bill was a victim of politics to a certain extent, and that better-funded opponents created the false impression that for-profit charter school operators would run roughshod over local parents.

"The opposition tried to make it about charter schools," Emhof said, adding that charter schools were not the focus of the bill.

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