Pic by kevin dooley, via Flickr

The Florida House education committee today passed the “Parent Empowerment in Education” bill filed by state Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami. The proposal would allow “parents of students assigned to certain underperforming public schools” to petition their school district to implement a “school turnaround option selected by parents.”

Bileca said at today’s hearing that the bill would also “give parents tools to better engage in their child’s education,” saying it would inform parents about “chronically ineffective” teachers and give “parents a seat at the table when a turnaround option that is federally required” must be selected for a failing school.

The Education committee also unanimously approved a strike-all amendment that, in Bileca’s words, firms up petition-gathering rules and requires a specific turnaround option to be on the bill.

The U.S. Department of Education‘s four “turnaround” models include replacing the principal, rehiring no more than 50 percent of the staff and reopening a school as a charter school (i.e. one that is publicly funded but privately managed).

Bileca said he brought the bill forward because research shows parents are the most important influence on children’s education. He added that the bill enhances the tools and the knowledge parents have about their child’s education. “This bill provides an avenue for meaningful engagement,” Bileca said.

The state director of Students First, a national organization founded by Michele Rhee, said it has over 70,000 members and almost 1,000 members singed a petition in of support this bill. Rhee, an education advisor to Gov. Rick Scott, and Students First support “school choice,” charter schools and standardized testing.

An opponent who spoke on behalf of parents’ groups said the majority of those organizations in Florida do not support Bileca’s bill, saying it is being promoted by lobbyists and calling it “a big power grab” “a slap in the face of parents” who believe decisions should be made at the local level.

Linda Kobert of Fund Education Now said her organization represents hundreds of thousands of parents with children in traditional public schools, and argued that the bill takes schools away from elected officials and gives it to for-profit enterprises. “We see an expanded proliferation of for-profit schools,” Kobert said.

Linda Serrato, the deputy communications director at Parent Revolution from Los Angeles, Calif., said parents are using a similar bill in California to talk “to their school districts.” Serrato also spoke at a state Senate education committee hearing in early February, at which state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto’s version of the bill passed.

A representative of Florida PTA, an organization that does not support the measure, said the group sees “a couple of flaws in the bill.” The spokesperson asked, “When the public assets are put in the private sector, what guarantees that when private sector fails[, the assets] will go back to the public?”

State Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami, voted against the bill and protested due to the lack of debate.

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