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Parent Trigger Bill fires off controversy

6:00 PM, Mar 5, 2012   |    comments
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BRADENTON, Fla. - Parents of children attending poorly-performing schools may have more options under the proposed Parent Empowerment Act -- or will they?

"We call it the Parent Trigger Bill, not the Parent Empowerment Act. All parents are is a catalyst to pass school over to the charter school, after that there is no more power," says Christine Sket, a parent and president of Fund Education Now in Manatee County.

An "F" school is given a year to turn around its grade. If it fails, parents can then take control. They'd sign a petition and would need a 51 percent majority vote. Parents can then either choose to send students to another school, convert the school into a nonprofit charter school, or privatize the school into a for-profit charter school.

Critics say privatizing schools is a bad idea.

"We all want better schools for our kids, [but this is] not the way to go about it," says Christine. "From what we've seen, it's a privatization of taxpayer dollars. Our children will not be guaranteed something better and there's no guarantee if they are not performing. Our local schools do have accountability."

Supporters of the Parent Empowerment Act say it does just that -- gives parents more power, more say, and more choices over their child's education.

Fay Lazaris, a mother of three, says, "I feel you need to be part of a process that would allow you to change the school, change something about it where your child benefits from a better school. It's just common sense to me."

A bipartisan movement in Tallahassee is speaking out against the legislation because it is not parent sponsored.

Florida PTA Vice President Dawn Steward says, "Corporate America will have to pay attention to their stockholders. Their stockholders aren't necessarily going to be children. My stockholders are children."

Senator Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland) says, "Even if you support school choice like I do, I have supported vouchers and I have supported charter schools, but this bill goes too far."

If parents vote to turn the school over to a private company and convert the school to a for-profit charter school, the local school board would need to approve it. In case of a tie, the State Board of Education would have the final word.

The bill goes to the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday.

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