Parents Hate "Parent Empowerment" School Bill, So Why Does It Exist?

A bizarre showdown is unfolding in Tallahassee this week. Advocates for parents -- including the Florida PTA and Parents Across America --  are lobbying vehemently against a bill that's supposed to "empower them."

The proposed legislation would let parents vote to turn a failing public school into a charter school. Opponents say SB 1718, the "Parent Empowerment in Education" bill, is a thinly veiled attempt to expand charters in a state where the for-profit charter school business is already booming.

"This bill is a hoax to further privatize our public schools," Rita Solnet, a Palm Beach

County parent advocate, wrote in an open letter to StudentsFirst, an organization pushing the bill. "This bill no more empowers me than it does the gecko on my patio from taking over my home."

So why are Republican legislators pushing the bill? Let's follow the money.

Last year, the bill's sponsor, State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers), received at least $2,500 in campaign contributions from people in the business of "educational services," including $500 from StudentsFirst.

Benacquisto got another $500 from Education Partnerships, a joint venture in Tallahassee that is not registered with the Florida Secretary of State's Office and has no website. The mysterious business gave $15,500 to Florida Republicans last year, including $10,000 to the state Republican Party. It did not give to Democrats.

Benaqcuisto's other notable donor was Community Education Partners Inc., a for-profit company from Nashville that runs alternative schools and dropout prevention programs. The company gave $10,500 to Republican legislators last year (nothing at all to Democrats). Under the "parent empowerment" bill, a failing school could also be turned over to a private management company.

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