Putting Education Reform To The Test

Changes To Parent Trigger Not Enough, Bill Fails In Florida Senate

Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

The Florida Senate begins a long day of floor debate on dozens of bills, including the parent trigger.

Update: It’s deja vu in the Florida Senate, where the parent trigger bill has gone down to defeat for the second year in a row on a 20-20 tie vote.

The bill was expected to pass this year thanks to a new makeup in the Senate and some amendments that watered down the original version.

10:44 a.m. – original version of story before vote:

It’s the final countdown for the parent trigger bill.

The legislation that failed last year on a tie vote in the Florida Senate seems to have a better shot this time around, with a new makeup of lawmakers and a few concessions.

The Senate is expected to pass the Parent Empowerment in Education bill, which gives parents a bigger say in how to deal with a chronically failing school.

Parents could petition the school board for significant changes, like replacing school administrators or turning the school into a charter.

During a Senate hearing yesterday, the bill was amended to give the final say to the local school board, although the board would have to issue a report explaining its decision if it differs from the parents’ turnaround option.

That’s different from the version approved by the House, which gives the State Board of Education the final authority if the school board and the parents disagree.

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett urged the Legislature to give the final say to the local districts because of constitutional concerns.

“Florida can’t have a third-party authorizer,” Bennett said. In this case, the State Board of Education could be considered the third-party.

Bennett is a strong supporter of the parent trigger even though critics say parents already have a legal seat at the table through School Advisory Councils.

“I think there is nothing more disenfranchising to a parent than to tell a parent they have no choice where their children go to school,” Bennett said. “I believe that this is an evolving discussion, that parent empowerment is yet another tool in the toolbox.”

If the Senate approves the altered bill, the House will have to debate and vote on the new version before lawmakers wrap up their work on Friday.

Lawmakers will likely pass some other education bills this week, too.

The bill creating district-run “innovation” schools passed the Senate and is awaiting debate in the House.

A digital learning bill passed the House and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate. The bill would increase access to digital and blended learning options while changing the funding formula for Florida Virtual School.

Another bill would expand charter school growth and flexibility while making charters more accountable for their expenditures. The bill is ready for its first full hearing in the Senate.


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