Senate Democrats are looking to get a few more votes to defeat a controversial education bill. The proposal gives parents with children in failing public schools the option of converting that school into a charter. Lynn Hatter reports the measure has already cleared the House, but the Senate vote is a toss-up.
The fight over the proposed “parent trigger” bill started last week, when a bi-partisan coalition of Senators headed by Republican Jack Latvala, blocked an attempt to fast-track the bill by pulling it out of its last committee hearing:
“This is the parent-trigger bill that there are a lot of concerns about—can we separate out the issue and let the other bills go or do we have to vote on them at one time?”
The Senate needed a two-thirds majority to bring the bill to the floor. That vote launched a weekend hearing over the bill. Leading the case in favor of the parent trigger proposal is the California-based group, Parent Revolution and one of its founders, Shirley Ford.
“Some schools in my community have been failing for 12 years. That is just not an option anymore. And it’s just kind of hard for me to understand, would anyone in this room, on this panel—and I’m not badgering anyone, but it’s a question I like to ask—would any of you send your children to an “F” failing school?”
But Republican Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach did not buy it. In a tense response to Ford’s testimony, Lynn said California is NOT Florida.
Lynn: “Are you aware that we offer vouchers for those students to go to private schools in the state of Florida?”
Ford: “Yes, I am.”
Lynn: “And don’t you think that’s a good thing?”
Ford: “Um, it could be…”
Lynn: “It could be? Explain that.”
Ford: “It could be... Are parents taking advantage of the vouchers?”
Lynn: “Yes, they are.”
Ford: “So what about the ones still left in the failing schools that don’t want the voucher?”
Lynn: “If they are failing for a continuous period of time, that school can be closed. Are you aware that we no longer have tenure so that we can get rid of failing teachers? Do you have THAT in California?”
Supporters of the so-called “parent trigger” bill say it gives parents a greater say in what happens to a failing public school. Under the bill, parents could petition a district to make staffing changes at a school, and also petition to have it turned into a charter.
But opponents say the bill is a thinly-disguised attempt to privatize schools by allowing for-profit charter schools to take over. Time ran out in the weekend meeting, and several people who wanted to testify didn’t get a chance to. So, on Monday the bill’s opponents held a press conference.
“We are tired of being cut off, interrupted, and not allowed to speak…We’ve heard one politician after another tell us that parents need to be empowered. Well, the irony is, we are empowered. We are here.”
Linda Culvert is with a coalition of parent groups that include the Florida Parent-Teacher Organization, Fund Education Now, and Save Duval Schools. And in a show of support for the opponents, one Republican crossed the line to join in the press conference.
“One of the reasons we’re in the position were in today is, last week when I was out sick, I didn’t attend the education committee of which I sit. And, my “no” vote would have been the vote to kill the bill and we wouldn’t have to be here today.”
Dockery has supported the state’s school voucher program and charter schools. But she says the parent-trigger bill goes too far. She’s concerned about parts of the bill dealing with how parents go about signing and collecting petitions. And she says how the Senate vote will play out, is anyone’s guess.
“On the floor last week you may have heard 19 no’s for letting the bill come out of its final committee of reference, which I think shows how split the Senate is on this issue.”
Meanwhile supporters of the measure point to statements made by prominent National Democrats Chicago Mayor and President Obama’s former Chief of Staff Rham Emanuel, who, in a release by Parent Revolution, is quoted as saying, “Giving parents this power would encourage them to play a larger role in their children’s education, and with greater power would come greater responsibility.”
Parent trigger bills are being pushed in about 20 states this year. The measure goes before the Senate Tuesday where 20 votes are needed to kill it, and 21 votes would send it on to the governor, who supports it.
Update: The Senate version of the Parent Trigger bill is now expected to be heard before the full chamber on Wednesday.