The Senate Education Committee advanced the so-called "parent trigger" measure on a 6-3 vote, with all three dissenting votes coming from Democrats.
A similar bill passed the Florida House last year but died in the Senate on a tie vote. Similar legislation has made a comeback in the House this session and is now awaiting a vote in the full chamber.
Sen. Kelli Stargel said Monday that her measure shouldn't plunge into a partisan issue. She said the bill doesn't represent a takeover of local school board authority but seeks to empower parents.
"I've heard everything from 'we don't need to do this' to 'we don't need the parents' input' to 'the parents don't want to give input,'" the Lakeland Republican said after the committee hearing. "But yet none of these people who were here, or very few, have children who are attending a chronically failing school."
The bill (SB 862) would strengthen the hands of parents by allowing them to vote on what to do with a failing school. The local school board would make the decision on the turnaround plan, and it could go against the wishes of the majority of parents. The local board's decision could be overruled by the State Board of Education. Options include reassigning students to other schools, overhauling the failing school or handing the school over to a private company to run as a charter school.
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said parents already have plenty of opportunities to become involved in their children's schools.
"We're missing the point if we think that just giving the parents one more option is going to make that big of a difference," he said.
Montford also worried about weakening the hand of locally elected school boards.
"It makes me nervous if we take that responsibility or we dilute that responsibility or if we give that responsibility to some other body, especially an appointed body," he said.
The bill drew lengthy public testimony that divided parents, education activists and local school board members.
SeQuena Napier of Jacksonville, the mother of two school-age children, said the bill would reassure parents that they have a role in steering the course of failing schools.
"If my child is assigned to a failing school, I deserve the right to have a say in what turn-around options are chosen for my children's school," she said. "I don't want my children to struggle like I did."
Another parent, Maria Kramer of Miami, countered that the bill is intended to empower charter school operators, not parents.
She warned that the parental votes would divide school communities and wondered about the safeguards for the parental petitions.
"Who will verify those signatures - the district?" she asked. "Who is going to make sure that things are done fairly and accurately?"
The bill's supporters say it would currently apply to 25 schools that drew failing grades.
Supporters including former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future. The bill's opponents include public school districts, teachers' unions and parents' groups.
The legislation has a couple of other committee stops before reaching the full Senate.