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Michelle Rhee pushes the parent trigger in Tallahassee

Rhee2Despite mounting criticism over a possible cheating scandal in Washington, D.C., education activist Michelle Rhee was in Tallahassee Monday to discuss a flurry of schools-related proposals in Florida.

"We're here to answer questions and lend our support in any way possible," Rhee said while waiting to meet with House Speaker Will Weatherford.

When asked which bills she was lobbying for, Rhee directed a reporter to the website for her education nonprofit, StudentsFirst. The organization lists performance pay for teachers, expanding school choice, and empowering parents as its top legislative priorities.

It's no secret that Rhee supports the Parent Empowerment Act, better known as the parent trigger. The proposal would let parents demand sweeping changes at low-performing schools, including having the school converted into a charter school. 

Teachers' unions, parent groups and school districts oppose the measure, and Democrats have voted against it at almost every stop. Still, the bill has already won the support of the House, and is awaiting a final committee hearing in the Senate.

In a brief interview Monday, Rhee said opposing the bill is "an unconscionable position to take."

"We talk to members [of StudentsFirst] everyday who are frustrated because their children are trapped in failing public schools..." she said. "In my mind, we have to empower our parents to be better advocates for our kids."

Rhee made the same argument to House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston and Democratic Leader pro tempore Mia Jones earlier in the day, Thurston said. 

"I told her our concerns," Thurston said. "We think there are already ways for parents to get involved, and we don't need our public schools being taken over by for-profit organizations."

Is Rhee's visit to the Capitol a sign that the trigger is in trouble? 

"I hope so," Thurston said, noting that the proposal could die for a second year in a row in the moderate Senate.

Rhee, who led the Washington D.C. school district from 2007 to 2010, has long been a lightning rod for controversy. She's back in the news this week, after a memo surfaced purporting to show evidence of cheating during her chancellorship. The Washington City Council will hold a hearing on the issue later this week.