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Parent Empowerment Act headed to House floor

The Parent Empowerment Act won the approval of the House Education Committee on Thursday -- and now heads to the House floor.

The proposal, which is also known as the Parent Trigger Act, would allow parents to demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools. In some cases, a majority of parents could even petition to have a traditional neighborhood school transformed into a charter school.

Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, amended the bill before Thursday's meeting. The new version clarified how many parents per child can sign a petition (one) and added several safeguards to the petition process. For example, the proposed legislation now clearly states that parents cannot be paid for their signatures.

In crafting the changes, Bileca sought to obtain bi-partisan support, he said.

"Every single change was discussed with the Florida Education Association and with the Democratic Caucus," he said.

Still, Bileca was unable to garner a single Democratic vote on Thursday.

The bill passed 11-6.

After the meeting, Democrats complained that Education Committee Chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, had scheduled the bill for the end of the meeting -- and had not allowed any time for debate among lawmakers.

Democrats have expressed concerns with the bill at previous committee stops. Some have said the bill is intended to help for-profit charter school management companies.

Bileca, however, says the bill is intended to give parents a voice in discussions about their public schools.