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Florida "parent empowerment" bill gets revision before first committee stop

Published Jan. 25, 2012

Heading toward its first hearings, Florida's proposed "Parent Empowerment Act" came under blistering criticism from parent groups saying the initiative was a "scheme" to hand neighborhood schools over to private entities. Many parent groups immediately disavowed any input in the bill that supposedly is for them.

School district officials raised concerns, too, that a simple parent petition could override the reform decisions of elected school board members on the advice of their professional staffs. They also noted a provision barring students from having teachers with "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" evaluations in two consecutive years could prove difficult under new evaluation laws.

Bill sponsor Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, filed a committee substitute to deal with at least some of the concerns, as the bill moves into its first committee stops on Tuesday. The amendments were "based on feedback from school boards and other stakeholders," he said, and aimed at keeping the focus on giving parents a voice.

In one key change, the bill would give school boards the power to select a perenially struggling school's first reform plan. Parents could submit an alternate if they wish, and the board would then have to send that option to the state for consideration. "If the state board determines that the school turnaround option selected by the parents is more likely to improve the academic performance of students at the school, it shall remand the district school board's implementation plan to the school board," the draft states.

Another change would provide that students may not have teachers rated "needs improvement" or "unsatisfactory" in two consecutive years in the same subject area, and not as a blanket mandate.

This legislation, which is on the Republican agenda in several states, has appeared on the priority list for Jeb Bush's foundation and it's on the Florida Education Association's list of bills it opposes. It's expected to be one of a handful of education policy bills with legs this session. Stay tuned.

Posted by Jeff Solochek at 1:27:14 pm on January 23, 2012