Sunday, June 24, 2018
Education

Tense fight over school 'parent trigger' bill ends in its defeat

TALLAHASSEE — The well-financed, politically savvy backers of the parent trigger bill thought it would be a sure thing.

Opponents knew it would be a dogfight.

In the end, it came down to a dramatic, last-minute vote in the sharply divided Florida Senate.

A coalition of Democrats and Republicans on Friday mustered the 20 votes needed to defeat SB 1718, which would have enabled parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools. Among the options: having the school converted into an independently run charter school.

"This bill would have dismantled and defunded our public education system," said Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, who fought against the proposal. "It would have allowed private, for-profit (charter school) management companies to take advantage of our public assets."

Supporters insisted it was never about privatizing schools, but rather empowering parents.

"It is a sad day for Florida's parents and students when 20 Senate members vote against giving parents the tools they need to improve their child's persistently failing school," said Patricia Levesque, executive director of former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future.

From the start of the 60-day session, the parent trigger was among the most hotly debated bills.

Its earliest opponents: a coalition of parent groups that included the Florida Parent Teacher Association. Almost immediately after the bill was filed, the coalition distributed a stinging press release, claiming the proposal really sought to line the pockets of for-profit school management companies, which would have access to new contracts.

"This was never really about parents," said Mindy Gould, legislative chair of the Florida PTA.

The parents stayed involved, testifying at committee meetings and participating in press conferences.

But supporters, including Bush's foundation and a California nonprofit called Parent Revolution, responded with an aggressive media campaign of their own. They invited parents from California, where similar legislation passed last year, to speak about how the legislation had transformed their schools and communities. Some delivered tearful testimonials.

The pace picked up in the final days of session.

Gov. Rick Scott and national education reformer Michelle Rhee made phone calls in support of the bill. Teachers' unions urged their members to stand up in opposition.

The maneuvering in the Florida Capitol was just as intense.

The bill passed along party lines in the House. But in the more moderate Senate — which had fractured after an attempt to oust future leadership — the parent trigger proposal became a political lightning rod.

Last week, a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans blocked an attempt to fast-track the bill to the Senate Floor. Later, a bipartisan group prevented the bill from being added to the calendar.

But with the clock winding down on the legislative session, Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, secured a last-minute hearing for the parent trigger proposal.

On Thursday night, the Senate questioned the proposal until 10 p.m. They came back for a debate and vote on Friday afternoon — the very last day of the legislative session.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, argued that the legislation could be "truly transformational" in Florida's chronically failing public schools.

Its sponsor, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, pointed out that state and federal law already prescribes reform measures for struggling schools — and that conversion to a charter school is one of them.

But Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, said she had received thousands of letters and phone calls, urging her to oppose the bill. Lynn slammed the California group pushing the proposal, saying its members were oblivious to the education reform already talking place in Florida.

Ultimately, the 12 Senate Democrats and eight maverick Republicans (Lynn, Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Nancy Detert, R-Venice; Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Alan Hays, R-Umatilla; Dennis Jones, R-Seminole; and Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville) banded together to defeat the bill.

The vote represented a stinging loss for Senate leadership — and for Bush's education agenda.

Parent activist Colleen Wood called it a win for moms and dads.

"This shows that the love Florida parents have for their children is stronger than any amount of money that can be put into a lobbying campaign," she said.

Comments
First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

First step for Hillsborough schools facing biggest challenges: Hire more teachers

TAMPA — As chief of diversity for the Hillsborough County School District, Minerva Spanner-Morrow tries to keep her expectations realistic."We want the best of the best and I know that’s very difficult," she told principals last week as they prepared...
Published: 06/23/18
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

STEM camp beats the summer doldrums for some Pasco students

DADE CITY —Just a few weeks into summer vacation, Pasco Middle School student Jade Neal, 14, was back at school, delving into a challenging STEM activity on force in motion, as the theme to Mission Impossible played in the background.The assignment? ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18