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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida parent groups question origins of "parent empowerment" bill



Florida lawmakers call it the "Parent Empowerment Act."

But parent groups around the state have told the Gradebook that they're not the ones asking for legislation — now filed in both the House and Senate — that would allow 51 percent of parents to demand overhauls to their schools. 

"Strong, established parent groups are opposed to the parent trigger law," said Rita Solnet, a Palm Beach activist and leader of Parents Across America. "It creates divisiveness in communities."

Her group issued a statement saying that while it supports "authentic parent empowerment," it cannot back the legislation, which "allows parents to voice discontent, (but) it affords no opportunity to select among more positive reforms, and it fails to promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up."

Colleen Wood of Save Duval Schools shared the concerns.

"They try to sell it as a piece of grassroots legislation," she told the Gradebook. "It's more astroturf."

Jean Hovey, president of the Florida PTA, said she had never heard of the bill. Kathleen Oropeza of Fund Education Now said reports increasingly are showing in other states such as California that the initiative is "really an avenue for charter schools to gain access to public schools" by taking teachers out of the process.

Florida law currently allows parents and teachers to vote jointly, but not separately, to convert a public school to charter status. This bill would allow parent groups to push for "implementation of one of the [state approved] school improvement options" via petition.  

House bill sponsor Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican, did not return repeated calls seeking comment. Senate deputy majority leader Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, also the sponsor of a corporate tax credit scholarship expansion bill, has filed identical legislation in the Senate.

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 6:24am]


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