Just when you thought the parent trigger debate couldn't get any more tense...
Left to Right: Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senators John Thrasher, Nan Rich, Andy Gardiner, and Chris Smith, clash over how to handle an amendment to the "Parent Trigger" bill, late Thursday. [TIMES PHOTO/SCOTT KEELER]
The Florida Senate spent more than two hours on Thursday night debating the hot-button parent trigger bill.
Opponents offered a whopping 20 unfriendly amendments to the proposal. Seven were heard. Two passed. Each of the votes was very, very close.
What does that mean for Friday's highly anticipated final vote?
Sen. Paula Dockery said she believes there are enough votes to kill the bill.
"We're there," said Dockery, a member of the coalition fighting the proposal. "We'll be 20-20 tomorrow, unless we pick up some more [votes]."
Sen. John Thrasher, a supporter, said he wasn't sure how the vote would go.
"This isn't about votes," he said. "This is about trying to get bold ideas in front of the Legislature."
At this point, it's anybody's guess.
The trigger bill would allow parents at low-performing schools to choose a turnaround strategy for the school. One option: parents could petition to have the school converted into a charter school.
Supporters say parental involvement is the only way to create lasting change at struggling schools. But opponents say the proposal is intended to line the pockets of for-profit charter-school companies, which would have access to new business.
The bill passed along party lines in the House earlier in the session. In the more moderate Senate -– a body that has been sharply divided after a failed attempt to oust future leadership –- the parent trigger has been a lightning rod, with expected 2014-16 Senate President Andy Gardiner pushing for it.
There has been plenty of drama. Last week, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans blocked an attempt to fast-track the bill to the Senate Floor. Later, a bipartisan group was able to prevent the proposal from being added to the calendar. But with the clock winding down on the session, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, secured a last-minute hearing.
(Photo above: Left to Right: Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R- St. Augustine, right, explains to Senator Larcenia Bullard, D- Miami, why he rejected her rules challenge during debate on the "Parent Trigger" bill, late Thursday. [TIMES PHOTO/SCOTT KEELER])
With all of the amendments on Thursday, senators didn't get time to debate the bill.
They passed two "unfriendly" proposals: one requiring that parent signatures be verified, and one prohibiting foreign-born charter-school operators from taking over failing traditional schools.
"This is about trying to stall, trying to kill Sen. Benacquisto's bill," said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, referencing the bill's sponsor, Lizbeth Benacquisto.
Countered Democrat Sen. Eleanor Sobel: "This is not about running any clock."
Senator Lisbeth Benacquisto, R- FT. Myers, presents her "Parent Trigger" bill on the floor of the Senate. Debate was heated on the amendmenents and a divided Senate will take a final vote, Friday. [TIMES PHOTO/SCOTT KEELER]
Senator Evelyn Lynn- R Ormond Beach, argues with Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R- St. Augustine, late Thursday during debate over the Parent Trigger bill. [TIMES PHOTO/SCOTT KEELER]