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‘Parent empowerment’ bill barely passes Senate

A bill that would allow parents to shut down a failing school, fire its principal or turn it into a charter school narrowly won passage in the Senate today.

The legislation applies to schools that receive a “D” or “F” under the state’s new grading system.

The proposal squeaked through on a 16-14 vote, passing with the minimum number of votes required.

It now goes to the House for further action.

Supporters say the proposal gives parents a tool when the school their children go to isn’t delivering.

“If you have a failing school that’s really bad, parents can come together and they can contract with a charter school, an ‘A’ charter school, to completely revamp the system,” said Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, the bill’s sponsor.

Critics, however, said there’s no guarantee that any new school that comes in is better than the one it is replacing.

“But the real big issue (is) no parents brought this bill,” said Sen. Rich Crandall, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

“It doesn’t do anything to move the needle in education. Someone is looking for a silver bullet. This is not it,” he said.

The final debate in the Senate focused less on the bill’s merits and more on the fact that the measure didn’t go through the Education Committee, even though it would dramatically revamp the state’s education system.

The legislation was approved as an amendment to SB1204 in the Senate Government Reform Committee after Crandall refused to give her original proposal, SB1389, a hearing.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, drafted the legislation and has advocated for its passage.

The concept, dubbed “parent empowerment,” began when a group known as Parent Revolution got a similar law passed in California.

Texas and Mississippi have also passed what are known in other states as “parent trigger” laws, and a few other states have watered-down versions, Butcher said.

SB1204 passed the Senate Government Reform Committee Feb. 15 along a 5-2 party-line vote.

But the public school establishment opposes the proposal.

Janice Palmer, a lobbyist with the Arizona School Boards Association, said Arizona’s abundant school choice options make the bill unnecessary.

She said that if parents are unhappy with their schools there are remedies in place such as voting school board members out of office or going through the board to replace a principal.

“This is almost a solution in need of a problem,” Palmer said.

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