The contentious "parent trigger" bill failed again in the Florida Senate, dying Tuesday on a tie vote just as it did in 2012.
The bill aimed to give parents more say in the fate of a struggling school, allowing them, by petition, to select a "turnaround" plan from the options already listed in state law.
Those options include allowing the school to remain "district managed" but with changes, turning it into a charter school, closing the campus or allowing a private-management firm to run the school.
The Senate version differed from the House bill — passed April 4 — in that it gave the local school board "final and conclusive" say about what option was chosen. The House bill said that if the parents pick a different option than the local board, the State Board of Education, whose members are political appointees, would have final say.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, proposed the Senate change to "eviscerate the argument" that with the bill's passage "corporate organizations are going to take over," he said. "That's simply not true."
He said his language was a "compromise" and an effort to pass a controversial bill that was approved by the House in 2012 but died in the Senate on a tie vote.
But his arguments did not hold sway with enough Senators. The vote ended in a 20-to-20 tie, with six Republicans joining the 14 Democrats in opposition.
The bill was officially a "parent empowerment" act but was dubbed the "parent trigger" bill as it was modeled after California's first-in-the-nation legislation with that name.
Its defeat was cheered by the Florida Education Association. "The second time around is just as sweet as the first," said Andy Ford, the teachers union president. "It's just a bad bill."
The union had feared the bill would help for-profit, school management firms get control of public schools. They worried those companies would hire lobbyists to pressure parents to petition for a charter — public schools often run by private firms — or private takeover and result in schools paid for by taxpayers turned over to for-profit corporations.
Other opponents noted the bill had the backing of the influential education groups run by former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee — but not the support of most Florida parent organizations, such as the Florida PTA.
"I have not heard from one parent who supports this bill," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, who voted against it, as she did last year. "In two years, not one parent has ever called me."
Supporters, however, argued the bill was a simple measure to give parents a bigger voice and another way to improve an F-rated school.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said during debate on the bill, "Is there anything more sad than being stuck in a failing school? Because that's what's happening right now."
The bill would have let "parents jump in and make things happen," Bean said. "Give parents a right to be involved with their school. How hard is that?"
But opponents argued parents already have options, if their children's school gets an F grade from the state, as 55 schools did in 2012.
Under state law, students at those schools can transfer to better-performing schools in their district. At F-rated Wheatley Elementary in Apopka, for example, 62 students opted to leave this school year, a district official said.
Magnet programs, charter schools and two state-funded voucher programs give parents additional choices.
The problem is that some parents — particularly those in the low-income communities often home to F-rated schools — don't always take advantage of those options, said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, a former school administrator who runs the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
"What we're missing here is what we can do as a state to encourage and get our parents involved in opportunities that are already available," he said.
Check back for updates on this developing story.
Kathleen Haughney of the Sentinel staff contributed to this story. email@example.com or 407-420-5273