TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Despite a last-ditch effort to portray it as a backdoor measure to let for-profit companies take over public schools, the Florida House on Thursday passed a bill to give parents a vote on turnaround options for failing public schools.
The “parent trigger” bill (HB 867), supported by many — but not all — Republicans, passed 68-51. The proposed law would give parents a say on how to deal with a failing school, with the actual voting done through a petition drive.
Florida Education Association President Andy Ford immediately criticized the vote as a gift to charter school companies.
“It’s all about creating an easy pathway so that for-profit charter operators can coerce parents to hand over our neighborhood public schools,” Ford said in a statement. “This doesn’t empower parents, it doesn’t provide better education for students, but it will line the pockets of the charter operators.”
Earlier in the debate, the bill’s sponsor told opponents he was “glad that everybody read their union talking points.”
Though the measure is not about charter school-operators, “what is wrong with turning a profit?” asked Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the Miami Republican sponsoring the bill.
In any event, he said, “this debate is about a simple thing: Do you want to allow parents to have the opportunity to engage in a democracy, in the future of their own children?”
The proposal allows parents to vote on one of several options through a petition drive, which could include putting a “plan of correction” into effect to fix the school. Another option is turning the failing school into a charter school, which could be managed by the school district, a nonprofit or a for-profit educational company. This option has upset most bill opponents.
The one that gets a simple majority — more than one-half of signatures — is the winner. The local school board may choose another option against parents’ wishes, but the State Board of Education can overrule it if that board prefers the parent’s choice.
But the plan also could pit parents against each other. The bill allows one option per petition, but allows multiple petitions for the different options. In that case, the petition with the most signatures wins.
It could even further make adversaries of some parents of the same child — it gives a half-vote each to divorced parents who share custody.
The idea is that parents will run the petition drives themselves. The bill provides that anybody gathering signatures, including parents, can’t offer payment, job offers or other “rewards” for signing a petition. Anyone who gathers signatures can’t be paid per signature and, “if asked, must disclose the organization he or she represents.”
It prohibits for-profit companies from gathering signatures or paying others to do so. The bill also tasks the school district with verifying parent signatures using “existing student enrollment documentation or other records containing parent signatures” and doesn’t require verification of notarized signatures.
The measure would apply only to schools who received an “F.” There are currently 25 schools rated as failing; Florida schools receive A through F letter grades based on how students perform on certain standardized tests.
But as House Democrats noted, under a new rating system starting in 2014-15, there could be close to 150.
A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate on a tie vote. A companion bill (SB 862) is moving in the Senate. It’s next scheduled to be considered by that chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee on Education.
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