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Parent Trigger Bill: Florida Senate’s Rebel Republicans Help Defeat Charter School Ploy

| March 9, 2012

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray Beach, celebrate the end to the latest attempt to convert public schools into charter schools. (Colin Hackley)

The Senate defeated a bill that would have let parents decide what to do with their children’s failing schools on a tie vote Friday, the latest and perhaps final victory for a dissident faction of the GOP caucus as the curtain came down on the 2012 legislative session.

Eight Republicans — most of them reliable members of the maverick group — joined with all 12 Senate Democrats to kill the measure (SB 1718). Republicans voting against the bill included Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Nancy Detert of Venice, Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, Alan Hays of Umatilla, Dennis Jones of Seminole, Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach and Steve Oelrich of Gainesville.

The defeat of the measure called the “parent trigger bill” by some because it would have let parents trigger certain changes, was the latest blow to the Senate leadership, which earlier this year lost a notable vote on prison privatization because of GOP opposition.

Five of the Republicans who voted against the education measure also opposed the prison bill.

And it marked at least the second setback for charter schools advocates on major bills. Another measure the schools favored, which would give them a share of local school district construction funds, appeared dead as the session neared its scheduled Friday evening end.

The bill defeated Friday would have given parents new powers over the schools their children attend. Parents could petition their school board to adopt a specific turnaround option for any school that drew an “F” on state report cards for two straight years. If a majority of parents were to sign the petition, the district would either have to implement the plan or submit both the parents’ plan and its own choice to the State Board of Education.

One option would be to make the school a charter school, and opponents said the measure was simply a giveaway to private companies that operate charter schools.

A close vote was expected, and critics said Thursday evening that they were confident they had the votes to kill the proposal. Former Gov. Jeb Bush, still an influential voice in Tallahassee on education matters, penned an op-ed for Friday’s Tampa Bay Times in an apparent effort to save the bill.

“This legislation doesn’t hand over the keys of public education to any one person or entity,” Bush wrote. “It gives parents a voice to demand for their kids the quality education each child deserves. This should be something we can all support.”

Gov. Rick Scott also said Friday morning that he supported the bill for the same reason.

On the floor, supporters said the measure has been successful when tried elsewhere and would have had the potential to spark more parental involvement in failing schools.

“What this bill does, at its core, is look at a system that already exists to address failing schools in our community, and say that we acknowledge the legitimacy of a parent’s voice when it comes to choosing what is already destined to be chosen,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, the Fort Myers Republican who sponsored the bill.

But opponents hammered the measure as a giveaway to charter-school companies that could twist the law’s provisions to their benefit.

“It has everything to do with laying the groundwork for the hostile corporate takeover of public schools throughout Florida — a direct attack on public education,” said Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston.

They argued that the state should be the one to try to repair subpar schools.

“We take care of it ourselves,” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach. “And if we fail, we need to fix it. But we cannot and we should not ever sell our sovereign duty as members of this Legislature to a private entity.”

At the same time, lawmakers who opposed the bill pushed for the Legislature to give earlier reforms time to work.

“If you want to know what’s the matter with public education in Florida, look in the mirror,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. “We’ve been changing everything year after year after year, and we never give it time to gel.”

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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5 Responses for “Parent Trigger Bill: Florida Senate’s Rebel Republicans Help Defeat Charter School Ploy”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    Great defeat! Its time that our elected one’s vote with some common sense. No privatization!

  2. NortonSmitty says:

    What a scam! I remember in Miami one of the first Charters opened in Hialeah funded and run by right-wjng Cubans who were buddies of Jeb Bush’s. They taught in their History that John Kennedy was a Communist who was sent by the Soviets and was killed by Cuban patriots before he could complete his take over of the US. I must have skipped that class at my school.

    And it hasn’t gotten any better. Here’s one in Tampa being run by a team of winners. The Nation of Islam (Farrakhan’s group) and the Church of Scientology! No shit. What a curriculum they could produce!

    It just another way for some politicians brother-in-law to rip off the public tax dollars and bad mouth another government run institution pandering to their base.

    • Liana G says:

      Norton, do you know that America is “ a charismatic leader away from fascism”? So says those paying keen attention to the political landscape, who are very much concerned about the present day state of America. Naomi Wolf’s ‘The End of America’ makes a very good case.

      This state of affairs is a direct reflection of our education system. While giving charter schools carte blanche is not the answer, diversity in education is. If the country is divided in its beliefs, indoctrinating the populace with a destructive groupthink mentality is harder to achieve.

      Also of concern is the recent report on March 6, 2012 by the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights on harsher discipline and less opportunity faced by minority students in the 72,000 reporting public schools.

      SECRETARY OF EDUCATION ARNE DUNCAN on an interview with PBS discussing this report also had this to say: Overall, while black and Hispanics make up 44 percent of the students in this survey, they make up only 26 percent of students in gifted-and-talented programs. Something’s wrong with that picture as well.”…
      (This is where Flagler School District gets to say “we’re not the only one doing it”. I wonder if they were among the schools reporting)

      This from the report:

      •Across all districts, African-American students are over 3½ times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. Black students make up 18% of the students in the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) sample, but 35% of the students suspended once, and 39% of the students expelled.

      •Less than a third of high schools serving the most Hispanic and African-American students offer calculus and only 40% offer physics, impacting college and career readiness.

      •Teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues in teaching in low-minority schools in the same district.

  3. jespo says:

    A good decision was made. Whew, onto the next battle I guess….

    • jc says:

      Finally some common sense! But that defeat won’t stop them. Jeb Bush is behind everyone of these charter votes. This won’t end until Bush and his cronies make every school a charter.

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