Controversial parent trigger bill goes down to defeat by 20-20 vote in Senate

Detert said there was one provision added to this year's bill that made her more inclined to support it — an amendment passed on Monday by state Sen. Dave Simmons that would have given the local school board the final decision on what to do with the "F" rated school, but it wasn't enough to change her mind.

The Sarasota Republican senator said she supported the state education policy changes that were spearheaded by former Gov. Jeb Bush while she was in the House beginning in 1998, but the state has seen too many changes in education since then.

"Can we just stop changing the schools every time somebody wins an election?" she asked rhetorically.

Sen. Stargel had the last word on the Senate floor. She emphasized that, contrary to comments from opponents of the bill, no child would be "stuck" in a struggling charter school.

"But unfortunately, there are children stuck in failing schools," Stargel said. She added that while there are other options for parents of kids in struggling schools, "those options have long waiting lists."

The Lakeland legislator concluded by saying that she refused to sit by idly and watch schools fail without acting.

"We're simply saying, listen to the parents. They may have a good suggestion," she said.

A problem from a public relations standpoint was that there wasn't as much grassroots support for the bill as there was against it. Yes, the Florida Education Association (FEA) and its allies were strongly opposed, but so were local PTA's and other parent groups.

In a statement, FEA head Andy Ford said, "This bill depends on professional lobbyists and outside forces to use marketing forces to persuade parents in a challenged school to transfer a valuable public asset from the jurisdiction of an elected school board into the hands of a corporation.”

After it was announced that the Senate had tied at 20-20, a roar of cheering came from the public gallery. This prompted Senate President Don Gaetz to chastise the audience, saying another such outburst would lead to their ejection.

  • Nancy Detert

For the second consecutive year, the controversial parent trigger bill failed in the state Senate with lawmakers deadlocking in a 20-20 vote. The bill would have allowed parents with children in failing public schools to signs petitions that called for a conversion into a charter school.

Just one more vote for the bill would have made it law (pending the governor's signature), since the House approved the legislation yesterday.

Six Republicans switched party lines to vote with the Democrats against the bill sponsored by Lakeland's Kelli Stargel. They were Nancy Detert, Charlie Dean, Rene Garcia, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Greg Evers and Jack Latvala.

Detert was especially biting in voicing her opposition to the legislation, "Not one parent ever called me to support this bill. And if it's the 'Parent Empowerment Act' then why is the PTA lobbying so heavily against this bill? I don't know who these parents are ... Why are we doing this? I don't know. Who benefits? I don't know."

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