Putting Education Reform To The Test

Education Commissioner Suggested Senate Parent Trigger Change


Sen. David Simmons offered one big change to the parent trigger bill. It gives school boards - not the Board of Education - the final say in how to turn around a failing school.

Senators said they changed a key provision in the session’s most controversial education bill on the advice of Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

Thursday a Senate panel approved the Parent Empowerment in Education bill, better known as the parent trigger bill.

Members altered the bill to conform with the House version, which has already been approved by the full House.

But they also made one big change: The local school board would have the final say in how to revamp a failing school.

The original bill gave the final say to the State Board of Education if the district and parents didn’t agree on a school turnaround plan.

“With the school district being the final arbiter of this decision, it’s going to take the heat as to whatever decision it makes,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. “Hopefully, it will turn around that school.”

Simmons said he suggested the change at the written request of Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

Bennett’s concern is that giving the Board of Education the final say “may let local school board members off the hook when it comes to respecting a parent’s role in the process.”

The parent trigger bill gives parents the ability to petition the school board for changes to a chronically failing school.

They would choose from these federally approved turnaround options: Replace the principal and add professional training; bring in new staff and administration; convert to a charter school; or close the school.

The committee heard public testimony from two parents with very different opinions about the parent trigger bill.

Roger Williams from Boynton Beach has four kids and is himself the “son of a 30-year teacher.”

“I believe that we need to have this,” Williams said. “School administration has had for as long as I’ve been alive to improve the education system, and it hasn’t happened.

“(Parents) have got to have access. The people that are in charge now are clearly not doing their job,” Williams said.

Orlando parent Linda Kobert, a founder of activist group Fund Education Now, spoke against the bill. She said parents already have a legal seat at the table through School Advisory Councils.

“The parents of the state of Florida want local control, not the Tallahassee Board of Education or the management company,” Kobert said. “We want to retain our taxpayer assets, not have them turned over to private corporations. And we want to be heard.”

Right now, Florida has 25 schools that earned a failing grade on the state report card and would be eligible for a parent petition.

When Florida schools switch to new education standards and mostly replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test with a new exam in 2014, Kobert said the number of schools earning a failing grade is expected to rise to 150.

The bill should be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee next week. If it’s approved, it will go to the Senate floor.


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