From The Buzz:
The so-called parent trigger bill has won the support of the Senate Budget Committee.
The vote took place at an unusual — and unusually contentious — Saturday morning meeting.
SB 1718, a priority for former Gov. Jeb Bush, had been hotly debated, even before Saturday’s meeting. The proposal from Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, would enable parents at low-performing schools to demand new teachers be hired, and even petition to have the school converted into a charter school.
Supporters say the bill has the potential to help chronically struggling schools by harnessing the power of parents. Opponents believe it is was written to benefit for-profit school management companies, which would be able to step in.
Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander called for a time-certain vote at 9:59 a.m., giving the committee only an hour to tackle 13 amendments to the already controversial bill.
The move drew criticism from several Democrats and Republican Sen. Evelyn Lynn.
Said Lynn: “This is an important bill. We are putting a time certain on something that is going to affect our children’s’ lives forever? Horrendous.”
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach, asked Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, to extend the meeting, or even notice a second meeting later in the day. Thrasher said the rules prohibited him from doing so.
The committee defeated five amendments from Democrats, mostly along party lines.
With five minutes left before the vote, Alexander asked if any parents in the room wanted to speak. A mom from Gainesville came forward against the proposal. But she was cut off at 9:59 a.m. so the secretary could call the roll. There was no time for debate among lawmakers.
The bill passed 13-7, with Lynn joining the Democrats in opposition.
Alexander allowed more than an hour of public testimony after the meeting, and many of the Senators stuck around.
I watched the entire meeting on The Florida Channel and have the following quick take-aways:
1. Controversial advocacy group, Parent Revolution flew in two operatives for testimony. The first, Michael Trujillo, mentioned “reams and reams” of positive results but didn’t bring any with him. When pressed by Sen, Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who’s also a school superintendent, evaded testifying as he was “just there to provide technical background on the legislation.”
Shirley Ford made her second appearance before the legislature and got into some pretty intense back and forth with Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Daytona Beach. Lynn, who was the lone republican who voted against the bill, tied Ford up with a question about vouchers. While Ford couldn’t defend her ambivelance to vouchers, she appeared to apply the race card in her challenge to Democrat opponents of the bill.
2. Sen. Steve Wise, D-Jacksonville, who remarkably voted for an amendment to clarify who was eligible to join a petition, had another meltdown moment. Wise irrationally bemoaned opposition by parent groups to parent trigger in a way which failed to even consider the technical points they emphasize. It was predictably visceral and vintage Steve Wise demagoguery. Wise asked “whether or not the parent groups were psychotic” and that “he needs prozac and xanax” to deal with them.
3. AFL-CIO lobbyist Rich Templin should have been more candid when he introduced himself. Not doing so lost some points on the merit of his sound arguments against the legislation in particular and the recent republican agenda in general. Bill sponsor, Sen. Evelyn Benacquisto, R-Fort Meyers, saw his lapel and called him on it.
But Templin’s testimony called attention to one of the bill’s flaws – and one which two republican senators were in denial about. Benacquisto and Sen. Aniteres Flores took issue with Templin’s assertion that out-of-state interests like PR could get involved in the signature campaign. Both indicated safeguards are in the bill when there aren’t.
4. Benacquisto provided her own moment of irrationality early on when opposing the amendment by Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, which sought to clarify who was eligible to sign a petition. Benacquisto asked if Siplin should matter after he left the senate. Huh?
5. A young intern of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future attempted to present himself as a former teacher and was outed by Sen.Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood. Now a law student, he was naturally for the bill.
6. While two members of teacher unions testified, some republican senators continually used default union rhetoric as justification for the bill. Private school teacher Jason Flom, who ended up being the star of the testimony session, quickly pointed out that the numerous parent groups who opposed the bill weren’t in unions.
7. Patricia Lavesque waived testifying when called.