Drama mounts as Florida parent trigger heads to Senate floor

Florida’s parent trigger bill is headed to the Senate floor after another predictable party-line committee vote. But odds are rising that this year’s model will bring as much last-minute drama as its predecessor did last year, when several Republicans broke rank to kill the measure.

In the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said a recent amendment giving school districts – and not the state – the final say in a school’s turnaround plan likely would be modified.

Proposed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the amendment altered the original bill’s final arbiter, the state Board of Education, and made it more acceptable to parent trigger critics. But parent trigger supporters said it watered down the bill’s intent, which is to let parents have a bigger role in determining the best way to improve their children’s schools.

Stargel said Tuesday that neither she nor Simmons – nor the majority of the education appropriations committee that passed it April 11 – really wanted that language in the bill.

“We would not want parents to come together to work so hard to get 50 percent of the parents (to support a turnaround plan), and just have their voices taken under advisement, if you will,’’ she said.

Still, she said, any changes would happen after Tuesday’s vote. That raised concerns among some committee members, most notably Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Sen. Jack Latvala
Sen. Jack Latvala

“So that would lead me to conclude that you’re going to remove that exemption at some point in time – or attempt to remove it,’’ he said.

Answered Stargel: “We’re going to modify this bill going forward, but we’re not sure in what way.”

The committee voted 12-6 in favor of the measure, with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto absent. The Fort Myers Republican had filed an amendment the day before, calling for the state to remain the final arbiter, but Stargel withdrew the proposal.

Senate Bill 862 would allow parents with children in an F-rated school to petition the district to consider a plan that could include bringing in a charter operator or management company. The petition would require signatures from a majority of parents.

The district could accept the parents’ plan or create its own from a list of other options, such as reassigning students to another school or developing a district-run turnaround school. In the original version of the bill, the district could reject the parent plan, but would have to submit both plans to the Board of Education for review.

The board then could decide which plan was better, and the district would have to implement that plan. The newest version of the bill that passed Tuesday allows the buck to stop with the district.

That’s the version Sen. Latvala said he would support on the Senate floor.

“I’m going to vote with you today because the provision that stipulates that the local school boards get to make the final decision in the local communities is in the bill,’’ he said.

But Latvala offered an early warning: “At such time that comes out of the bill, I might not be voting with you anymore. But I will encourage you to leave that in the bill.’’

Latvala was not among eight Republicans who joined 12 Democrats to defeat the bill in 2012. Three of the eight remain in the Senate.

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BY Sherri Ackerman

Sherri Ackerman is the former associate editor of redefinED. She is a former correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times and reporter for The Tampa Tribune, writing about everything from cops and courts to social services and education. She grew up in Indiana and moved to Tampa as a teenager, graduating from Brandon High School and, later, from the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications/news editing. Sherri passed away in March 2016.


Mark Halpert

Maybe it is time to borrow a page from the NRA Playbook — whoever supports the Parent Trigger should be the target of committed parents, teachers and citizens. This is not a good bill, or even a bad one. This is a terrible bill with Privatization written all over it.

Jim Jackson

Schools that meet the criteria proposed in the Parent Empowerment Bill are already mandated by the State of Florida by utilizing the Chief Turnaround Administrator in the District. Why do we continue to force this down the throats of parents? Five options are already there. What are we possibly gaining by doing this. I am looking for a hidden agenda and since it turns up on Redefined again I guess I need to keep reading here.

Jim just read the bill. While I respect Sen. Latvala his support for Sen. Simmons amendment basically guts the entire bill. It takes the empowerment away from the parents. The fundamental problem is that the districts have done a poor job in expanding option.

You know as well as I do that there are over 2000 kids in Pinellas County on a waiting list for a Fundamental or Magnet school, and yet the district has not expanded the supply. Not all parents are happy in their zoned school especially if it is failing and unless they win the lottery they are stuck.

What is so bad about a majority of the parents asking for a specific change? Without the Simmons amendment the district can still say no but would need to submit the parents’ option to the state along with the district’s option. Today, the state still decides whether to accept or reject the district’s turnaround option.

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