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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.

Comments

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Yoshika Green

Welcoming parents with a voice to sit at the decision-making table of change for their child's school and education is vital. As an educator who is not yet a parent, I think that The Parent Empowerment Act is important to have in place, when schools have failed for three consecutive years. This bill has been revisited, and has added amendments that make it fair for all. Parent involvement is necessary to truly see the most gains in student learning. Therefore, encouraging parents to get involved at home and at the decision-making table through this act, is a plan that will "trigger" parents to do nothing more than to buy into their child's education in a more tangible way.

David J. Andrews

Let's make sure that we keep in mind the real winners behind this bill--the kids. Ultimately, students will receive a better education because their parents will have more options to decide what is best for their individual child. No two students are the same, and we should legislate in a way that recognizes the innate differences in each and every youngster that is the future of this great country.

Jennifer Smith

This bill was written by lobbyists for the for-profit charter school industry and is nothing more than yet another attempt by for-profit charter schools to take over existing school facilities by targeting parents' misinformation and desperation. Considering that charter schools (nationwide and most especially in Florida) do NOT on the whole perform better than traditional public schools (there are actually 17x the number of failing charter schools in Florida than public schools), there is no factual basis for anyone to believe that turning a public school into a charter school is a recipe for success. In fact, if "success" comes from charter schools, it is often the result of very careful cherry-picking. Public schools are open to ALL students; charter schools are not. The overwhelming majority of so-called "failing schools" are in neighborhoods with huge economic and social problems. Turning a public school into a charter school will do nothing to eliminate or reduce the effects of unemployment, violence, gangs, absentee parents (whether by choice or because they work several jobs to pay the bills), poverty, etc. If we are serious about "turning around failing schools," we have to be serious about fixing social and economic problems. So far I have yet to see any Republicans in Tallahassee (or in D.C.) addressing the real problems.

Beth Nativ

The current system does not give parents an adequate voice when deciding how to fix failing schools. The Parent Empowerment Act offers parents the opportunity to step in and be heard in a forum that simply does not currently exist. It also gives parents information about teachers who are not performing well. Research shows that the effectiveness of teachers has a huge impact on students, and as an elementary teacher, I have seen first hand what happens to students who are subjected to a year or more of sub-par teaching. It takes me half a school year just to get those kids on track with the rest of the class. The “trigger option” in this bill occurs only when neighborhood schools have failed consistently for three years. Three years is long enough for the county – or state – to take drastic actions that could turn around a failing school. When the current system cannot find solutions, it is imperative to let the parents join the decision making process. I do not understand why there was no Democratic support within the House Education Committee for a bill that clearly has bipartisan elements - specifically, the amendments that the FEA and Democratic Caucus requested. Perhaps those House members are more interested in opposing Republicans than in voting for a bill that will help parents make the best decisions for their children. I really hope that our lawmakers can put aside their politics in order to let parents be heard.

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