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Politics

Sen. Kelli Stargel: Sadly, Parent Empowerment Misunderstood

April 30, 2013 - 6:00pm

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland is "disappointed" by the unexpected defeat of her Parent Empowerment legislation, but her efforts to get parents involved in their children's education are not down for the count.

Stargel sat down with Sunshine State News Wednesday evening to discuss the aftermath of Tuesday's Senate drama, why her bill failed, and where she goes from here.

Now that you've had time to sleep on it, what are your thoughts on how Parent Empowerment turned out.

It's really not much different from what my initial response was: It's disappointing. It's one of the hardest things in this [legislative] process, when the message of a bill supersedes the bill's actual policy, what it actually does. That happened early on this session. It came to the point that when people were voting on this bill, they were no long voting on the policy, they were voting on the message and the rhetoric of what it was perceived to be.

You want to say to people: 'Read the bill; read the bill!' But the average person is not going to read the bill, so it was disappointing. This was a good bill. It had pure intentions. It did not do, and could not do, the things that the rhetoric said it was doing.

Everybody in the media except Sunshine State News is still referring to this bill as 'parent trigger.' What is your reaction to papers still calling it that?

Our bill was not as strong as I would have liked it to have been. Unfortunately, [opponents] made it into a charter-takeover piece of legislation, but sometimes all the parents need is maybe better computers, better facilities, more high-quality teachers. Who knows?

The majority of these [failing] schools are in low-income poverty areas with minority kids, and I agree that these are parents who don't typically complain, because they're not involved. If you've got 90 percent of parents at some great A-school, and there's one teacher who's substandard, these parents are going to complain. So the school district is going to do what's best for the 90 percent and move those teachers to a [failing] school where no one complains.

Did Gov. Scott ever communicate to you his opposition to the bill?

I met with the governor's office early on, [to discuss] some language they would have liked to have seen in the bill. The governor was pretty clear, in the beginning, that he did not want this to become a decision that rested at the feet of the State Board [of Education]; the amendment that [Sen. David] Simmons put on addressed that.

Were there any other problems Scott had with the bill?

That was the only one I was aware of.

What do you think changed the minds of [Sens. Jack Latvala, Greg Evers, Rene Garcia, and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla] from last year to this year? This year's was a more watered-down version of the bill than last years, wasn't it?

I think they are probably trying to garner votes [for future electoral races]. Maybe they have higher [political] aspirations.

I actually had this conversation with the governor early in session: this bill, a win for people, a win for students, was at a very high price for [legislators] who voted for the bill, because it wasperceivedthat this bill was going to do these draconian, awful, Armageddon things to education. What this bill was benefiting was 22 [failing] schools and the students in those schools who were already in a downturn situation with parents not involved. The political capital spent to help a small minority of people ... politically, it's probably not worth it.

It's disappointing; we [legislators] are not here to make easy decisions, we're up here [in Tallahassee] to work for everybody.

Where do you go from here?

I won't be refiling this legislation.

You're going to see me sit down with Sen. [Bill] Montford [D-Tallahassee], who has the same passion, who's from the other side of the aisle, who's spent a lot of time in education, and knows what their complications are. You have me, who has five children, and so have seen the parents' perspective from all the years. We're going to come together, to figure out how we get a parent who has a right, constitutionally, not to do anything, but yet we need them to get involved [in their children's education].

Any sneak-peek of what we can expect to see from you next year? Any ideas being tossed around in your mind?

Other states have done things like parental neglect, saying that if you're not active with your kids in school, it's 'parental neglect' but I don't want to be punitive. I honestly believe these parents don't know what to do or how to do it. It's not intentional, they just don't realize. Maybe they've been beaten down, or they've had a bad experience themselves in education; maybe they feel inferior, maybe they don't speak the language. But we can't help them until we know why they are not involved.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (954) 235-9116.

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