Lines drawn in failing school bill


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Battle lines are being drawn once again over a bill giving parents the ability to take over their child's failing school.

A rule of politics is count the votes before your bill hits the floor. Late in the legislative session last year, despite a GOP supermajority, the votes were too close to count.

"It has turned parent against parent," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn.

The bill in question? The Parent Empowerment Act, known as the parent trigger bill by opponents. It would allow parents to petition their kids' failing school to turn it in to a charter school.

"If we've got a bill called the Parent Empowerment Bill, then why is the PTA against the bill?" said Sen. Nancy Detert.

The legislation died on a split vote.

Now, it's back for another round. A new bill similar to last year's legislation was filed at the state Capitol this week. It's already gaining attention.

Republican Rep. Jimmy Patronis said the bill encourages parent participation.

"Anytime you can empower the parent to be more involved in their child's development, it's a positive thing," said Patronis.

House Democrat Mark Danish, a middle school science teacher, said the bill has nothing to do with parents.

"People look at, 'Oh, it's going to help with the bad schools,' but what it's going to do is it's going to turn it over to private companies to take over a school, and it's going to turn it into a profit-making venture," said Danish.

The bill may gain some traction from a Hollywood drama, released over the summer. "Won't Back Down" tells the story of two moms who fight administrators to improve their children's school.

If the bill passes, then schools receiving two consecutive F scores would be targeted. Fifty percent of parents at the school would then need to sign a petition asking the State Board of Education to turn over the keys to a charter school company.