Monday, September 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
USF assistant VP rides AHN wave of support to success

USF assistant VP rides AHN wave of support to success

Editor’s note: Academy of the Holy Names junior Tress Jacobs spent the summer of 2018 shadowing Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper. To conclude the experience, she interviewed Academy alumnus Kim Wilmath Hill and filed this report.By Tres...
Published: 09/23/18
How do you explain active shooters to a first-grader? For educators, school safety is a ‘work in progress.’

How do you explain active shooters to a first-grader? For educators, school safety is a ‘work in progress.’

Active assailant. Run-hide-fight. Barricade the classroom. The language of preventing a shooting like the one this year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is often filled with terms that can stir up fear in students, often out of necessity.But f...
Published: 09/22/18

Two acclaimed authors to speak about water at USF St. Petersburg

Pulitzer Prize winner and University of Florida professor Jack Davis thinks people need to humble themselves more toward water."The water doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the water," he said. "Without water, humanity would not exist, life would not...
Published: 09/21/18
Updated: 09/22/18
Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District on Friday released a long-awaited, school-by-school list of 1,785 projects to be funded by a proposed half-cent sales tax hike.The list, now on the district website, includes playgrounds for Anderson El...
Published: 09/21/18
Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Students, parents invited to three upcoming college and career fairsThree events are scheduled over the next two weeks that are designed to help students plan their next steps after leaving the Pinellas County school system. The University of South F...
Published: 09/21/18
Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

TRINITY — Julie Michael stood in the metal bleachers, flute poised at her lips, ready to play the national anthem with the Seven Springs Middle School advanced band.As the band segued into the school fight song, the eighth-grader continued per...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/23/18
Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

And 200,000 third-graders just rolled their eyes.I swear, even they can see through the education proposals offered by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum this week.Let’s see, the Republican wants more privatization. And the Democ...
Published: 09/20/18

Local rapper encourages elementary students to attend school every day(w/video)

Local rapper Corey Thornton performs original songs on Wednesday Sept. 18, 2019 about the importance of school attendance at Walsingham Elementary School during a school wide assembly. During Attendance Awareness Month, Pinellas County Schools and th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

TAMPA — All summer, while most students were gone, the University of South Florida has been toiling away on a blueprint for the complex merger of the USF System.Its three universities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota will soon consolidate into o...
Published: 09/19/18
Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

LAND O' LAKES — The Pasco County School Board unanimously adopted a $1.26 billion budget Tuesday with a slightly lowered tax rate and funding for new school construction in both east and west Pasco.But the spending item that grabbed most of th...
Published: 09/19/18