TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - With a key vote looming in the Florida House, rival groups ratcheted up their arguments Tuesday on a bill that would give parents a stronger voice in charting a turnaround course for failing public schools.
Supporters including former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future said the so-called "parent trigger" bill (HB 867) would empower parents by allowing them to vote on what to do with a failing school. Options include reassigning students to other schools or handing the school over to a private company to run as a charter school.
The bill's fans downplayed the prospect that the bill would open the floodgates to convert public schools into charter schools.
"The notion that there's an army of charter operators out there waiting to take advantage of this law simply flies in the face of the facts," said Patrick DeTemple, who has assisted parental drives to improve failing schools in California, where a similar law has been in effect for some years.
Jeff Wright with the Florida Education Association said later that the bill was being orchestrated by school-choice advocates and has been heavily lobbied by charter school supporters.
"Why are no parents from this state participating in these conversations?" he asked. "And the parents who care here have said, 'This isn't what we want.' We believe we have the influence back home to tell our school boards what we want done with these schools. We don't need California nor the foundation's help."
Under the bill, the local school board would make the decision on the turnaround plan, and it could go against the wishes of the majority of parents. The local board's decision could be overruled by the State Board of Education.
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the bill's lead sponsor, said Tuesday he expects a House vote sometime in early April. The bill recently cleared the House's education committee on a 10-7 vote. A similar bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate on a tie vote.
Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future, said Tuesday that the bill would currently apply to 25 schools that drew failing grades. She said the bill would give parents "a legal seat at the table" in charting a failing school's turnaround course. She said that would give parents extra leverage to press for initiatives aimed at boosting student achievement.
DeTemple said parents are best suited to "shake the system up" and to help a failing school recover. But he cautioned that organizing parents to push for a particular remedy for a failing school is a painstaking task, especially in low-income communities. In California, some parental groups have gotten what they wanted from local school boards. In other cases, they gave up the fight, he said.
The bill's opponents include public school districts, teachers' unions and parents' groups.
Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of the public education advocacy group Fund Education Now, said the bill's supporters "have a lot of nerve" in claiming it will empower parents.
"The list of parents and voters opposed to the Parent Trigger scheme is just not going away," she said in a statement.
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