TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a stunning vote Tuesday, the Senate rejected on a tie vote a controversial bill that would have given parents the ability to register their wishes with a district that's choosing how to turn around failing schools.
The 20-20 vote was a mirror image of a Senate deadlock last year on the so-called "parent trigger" bill, which would allow parents to sign petitions in favor of a particular turnaround option for schools that draw an "F" on state report cards for two straight years.
Opponents have said the bill would have allowed privately owned for-profit charter school companies to swoop in and take over failing schools.
Supporters had hoped that a more conservative GOP caucus and the smaller ambitions of this year's version (HB 867) -- which would have left the final decision to the local school board regardless of what parents asked for -- would get the legislation through the upper chamber.
Under last year's bill, the State Board of Education would have decided if the parents and the school board split.
But four Republicans who voted for the bill last year -- Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla of Miami, Sen. Greg Evers of Baker, Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater -- joined two other Republicans and all 14 Democrats in opposing the bill. The other GOP defectors were Sen. Charlie Dean of Inverness and Sen. Nancy Detert of Venice.
Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who had opposed the bill last year because of a procedural fight with leadership, supported this year's measure.
The defeat was a major setback for former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future, which has strongly backed the measure, and a victory for teachers unions, parent groups and Democrats, who had largely opposed it.
"Today, in a bipartisan effort the Florida Senate stood up for families, teachers, and students across the state by striking down the corporate trigger bill for the second year in a row," said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant. "This harmful legislation would have allowed for-profit corporations to seize control of tax-payer funded schools, and put the education of our children in jeopardy."
Supporters spent the day on the Senate floor insisting that the bill wouldn't make it easier for charter management companies to get control of public schools, and highlighting the bill's attempts to empower parents.
"So to me, you can distill all the arguments in this particular issue down to one word: Trust," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. "Do you trust the parents? Or don't you?"
But opponents rejected the argument that the bill would give parents a seat at the table that wasn't already available.
"The problem we have, though, is we have empty seats at the table," said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. "There are ample opportunities for parents to be involved. What we're missing here is, what we can do as a state to encourage and get our parents involved in the opportunities that are already available?"
Detert highlighted education reform efforts that the Senate has already passed, including some that haven't fully taken effect.
"Can we just stop changing the schools every time somebody wins an election?" she asked.
The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, rebuffed many of those arguments, including those based on the current lack of involvement by some parents in failing schools.
"Regardless, they are the parent of that child," she said, "and they should be able to have a voice and that voice should be listened to."