Senate panel approves parent trigger; Dems cry foul
The so-called parent trigger bill has won the support of the Senate Budget Committee.
The vote took place at an unusual -- and unusually contentious -- Saturday morning meeting.
SB 1718, a priority for former Gov. Jeb Bush, had been hotly debated, even before Saturday's meeting. The proposal from Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, would enable parents at low-performing schools to demand new teachers be hired, and even petition to have the school converted into a charter school.
Supporters say the bill has the potential to help chronically struggling schools by harnessing the power of parents. Opponents believe it is was written to benefit for-profit school management companies, which would be able to step in.
Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander called for a time-certain vote at 9:59 a.m., giving the committee only an hour to tackle 13 amendements to the already controversial bill.
The move drew criticsm from several Democrats and Republican Sen. Evelyn Lynn.
Said Lynn: "This is an important bill. We are putting a time certain on something that is going to affect our children’s’ lives forever? Horrendous."
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach, asked Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, to extend the meeting, or even notice a second meeting later in the day. Thrasher said the rules prohibited him from doing so.
The committee defeated five amendements from Democrats, mostly along party lines.
With five minutes left before the vote, Alexander asked if any parents in the room wanted to speak. A mom from Gainesville came forward against the proposal. But she was cut off at 9:59 a.m. so the secretary could call the roll. There was no time for debate among lawmakers.
The bill passed 13-7, with Lynn joining the Democrats in opposition.
Alexander allowed more than an hour of public testimony after the meeting, and many of the Senators stuck around.
Opponents of the bill have cried foul at its previous committee stops. Last week, parents complained they were unable to speak when the proposal was heard in the Senate PreK-12 Budget Subcommittee.
On Friday, Thrasher tried to fast track the bill to the Senate Floor. But the move was blocked by Democrats led by Sen. Nan Rich and several Republicans led by Sen. Jack Latvala.