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Controversial 'parent trigger' survives last committee stop in Senate

As expected, Sen. Kelli Stargel's parent trigger bill won the support of the Senate appropriations panel Tuesday -- and is now headed to the Senate floor.

There was, however, one plot twist.

At a previous committee stop, Sen. David Simmons added language that would give school districts the final say in determining how to improve a struggling school. (That is, they could ignore a group of parents demanding change.) Sen. Lizbeth Benaquisto filed an amendment Monday to remove that provision, and let the state Board of Education make the final call.

But Stargel had the amendment withdrawn at the start of Tuesday's hearing.

It isn't that Stargel wants to keep Simmons's language. In fact, she wants it stripped from the bill, too. 

"I want to make sure parent voices are actually heard and not just taken under advisement," she said, adding that Simmons also had a change of heart about the language. 

But Stargel said she needed more time to figure out how to "best handle the situation." She said she would likely bring an amendment to the Senate floor.

When asked why she supported Simmons's amendment at the earlier committee stop, Stargel said she didn't read it until "five minutes" before the hearing, and that she hadn't had time to work through the potential implications.

The trigger bill (sans amendment) passed out of the appropriations committee in a party-lines vote.

Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton gave his support, but only because the Benaquisto amendment was withdrawn and school districts maintained authority.

"Should it go any further than that, you are going to have a constitutional problem," Blanton said, noting that the Florida Constitution requires elected school boards (not appointed bodies like the state Board of Education) to oversee local schools.