The "parent trigger" bill was hotly debated this afternoon by the Florida House, which then passed the measure 68 to 51.
The bill aims to give parents more say in the fate of a failing school. But critics fear it will be a mechanism for turning public schools over to private (and for-profit) management companies. They also argue that Florida parents don't want the measure.
"I reject your premise that parents do not have a voice," said Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, speaking against the measure. "Not only do parents have a voice, they also have a seat at the table."
The bill allows an end run around local school boards and proclaims "outside, for-profit companies as heroes," added Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland. "It's about misleading the public."
The bill would allow parents, by petition, to suggest a required "turnaround" option for a school with an F on the state's school report card. The options include closing the school, allowing the district to manage it with more changes, turning it into a charter school (which might be run by a private firm) and turning it over to a private management firm.
The parents option would be presented to the local school board, which would make its decision and forward it to the State Board of Education, which would have final say.
"I don't see how more parent involvement can be a bad thing," said Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, speaking in favor of the measure.
The state's F schools are "failing our students, they're failing our communities, they're maintaining the status quo at the expense of our children," Nunez said.
Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said lawmakers owe it to parents in communities with F schools to give them more options.
"We have the responsibility to give them the avenue to speak up to their local school board…to be involved and in charge of their child's education," Diaz said.
State figures show there were 34 F grades handed to traditional schools in 2012, including the F given to Wheatley Elementary in Apopka.
Parents at those schools do have options now -- they can ask for a transfer. And 62 of Wheatley's about 380 students did ask for and take a move to another Orange school, district officials said.
A similar bill, officially called a "parent empowerment" measure, passed the Florida House last year but was narrowly defeated in the Senate.