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Parent trigger, charter-school expansion bills headed to the House floor

The controversial parent-trigger bill won the support of a third House committee Friday morning, meaning it is now headed for the House floor.

For the third time, HB 867 passed in a party-lines vote.

The bill would enable parents to petition changes at failing public schools, including having a charter school company take over. It would also prevent children from being assigned to ineffective teachers for two years in a row.

“By not passing this bill, you are saying you don’t want parents to have a seat at the table that is perennially failing,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican.

“Parents already have a seat at the table,” countered Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat. “There are preexisting laws that allow school advisory councils. This bill is problematic on many levels. It will have some unintended, or rather intended consequences, that will result in the disruption and dismantling of schools that will likely harm... schools and communities.”

Also headed to the House floor: Rep. George Moraitis’ sweeping charter school bill, HB 7009. The proposal would require under-enrolled traditional public schools to share some unused space with charter schools. The charters would not have to pay rent.

“There are lots of other things in here intended to encourage innovation,” Moraitis told the House Education Committee Friday, noting that proposal would also allow high-performing charters to expand.

Gone is a controversial provision that would require school districts to adopt a model charter-school contract drafted by the state Department of Education. Instead, the bill now asks the DOE to create a model contract before November. Lawmakers would consider it sometime next year.

"It would have been premature for us, as policy makers, to require a model contract that doesn't exist yet," Moraitis said.

All of the Democrats on the panel voted against the bill, with the exception of Rep. Betty Reed, of Tampa. Democrats have by and large opposed any charter-school-expansion bills.

Rep. Joe Saunders, of Orlando, was among the Democrats who voted against the bill. But, he said: “I do think we’ve taken a meaningful step towards transparency.”