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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The bill that no parents wanted makes it out of committee

From the Tampa Bay Times

By Jeff Solocheck

The "parent empowerment" bill that many Florida parent groups have fought against barely made its way out of the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations committee today, with two Republicans — Evelyn Lynn and Nancy Detert — joining Democrat Bill Montford in opposing the measure. Lynn then challenged the 4-3 outcome, saying the committee had not followed Senate rules in discussing and voting on the bill.

The legislation — a priority for Jeb Bush's education foundation — would give parents the right to petition for a school turnaround option if their school receives an F grade from the state. Sponsor Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, submitted a strike-all replacement that she said attempted to answer the many concerns raised by critics of the idea.

Changes included ensuring that students in both charter and traditional schools would not have a teacher rated as unsatisfactory or needs improvement in two consecutive years, and setting strict rules for collecting parent signatures. Benacquisto suggested that many of the provisions for school turnarounds already exist.

"We are just seeking to give parents a meaningful voice in the turnaround program for the school and their students," she said.

Detert noted that changes to school grading, which the State Board of Education was voting on at the same time, would lead to more F schools — not because the schools are changing but because of new ways of measuring performance. She said that would lead to more time and money spent on structure, taking away from money spent on students and education.

Because of time constraints set by leaders, the panel had just 20 minutes to talk about the bill from start to finish. Public testimony was limited, as was member debate. After Lynn complained about the process, chairman David Simmons said he would bring the concerns to the rules committee. If that panel says there was a problem, he will ask for another special meeting for reconsideration.

A companion House bill is scheduled for floor consideration Wednesday.

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