Pic by kevin dooley, via Flickr

The Parent Empowerment in Education bill, also known as the “Parent Trigger” bill, which opponents have called a push to privatize public schools, was defeated in the Florida Senate on Friday.

The Senate vote was a tie – with 20 Senators voting in favor and 20 Senators (including eight Republicans) voting against the measure, filed by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft Myers.

Among its many provisions, the controversial “Parent Trigger bill“ (.pdf) would authorize parents of students who attend a failing public school “to submit a petition to the school district requesting implementation of a school turnaround option.”

The U.S. Department of Education‘s “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).

“We already have almost everything in your bill,” said  Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, on Friday. “Since parents can already convert to charter schools, why are we doing this bill other than to give our public school buildings to private businesses?”

She added that, thanks to former governor Jeb Bush, Florida schools are at the forefront and are “ten years ahead in education reform.”

Bush wrote an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times today in support of the bill, which he said would provide parents “a platform to engage in discussions on how to improve their child’s failing school and, most importantly, to provide leverage for these moms and dads to achieve real change.”

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, compared the parent trigger bill to prison privatization, an issue taken up a few weeks ago. Fasano asked Benacquisto if for-profit charter school companies would “be able to take over and run a school that was paid for by the state.”

Benacquisto answered that, if school districts so decided, a turn around option would be open.

“What we haven’t talked about in this is the teachers,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Apalachicola, who added that many of the stat’e’s best teachers work in “struggling schools,” and that Florida “shouldn’t follow California in this unproved effort.”

Opponents of the trigger bill included Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, who offered an amendment to include penalties  for people who would give monetary rewards or gifts to parents for their support for a turnaround petition. That amendment failed.

Dockery added that “if we are going to turn over our public schools to for profits corporations, we want to make sure it truly is a grassroots effort.”

An amendment proposed by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to allow parents of public charter schools to petition to convert back to a traditional public school also failed.

Benacquisto said throughout the two days the bill was on the Senate floor that arguments that equate the bill with efforts to bring in the private sector should be set aside, because the bill is about empowering children and parents.

Democrats didn’t buy it.

“You say this is not about the money,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise. “I wish I could believe that this is not about the money.”

“The money is for the deep pockets of the people backing this terrible bill,” said Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami.

A representative of the Florida Parent Teacher Association, an organization that does not support the measure, said during a House meeting in February that 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?”

Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R- Daytona Beach said that Parent Revolution, a California-based group that supports the Florida trigger bill, is “oblivious” to current education reforms in Florida.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group that promotes “free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, and the federal government,” wrote a model Parent Trigger bill, which includes language promoting parent empowerment, turnaround models or options for failing public schools.

Parent Revolution has said that ALEC had no hand in writing the Florida bill.

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