Senators seek pilot program, reporting requirements for earlier school start time bill

Florida Politics | By Gray Rohrer | April 18, 2023

‘The reality is this is going to be very complicated.’

Legislation requiring middle and high schools to start later in the day advanced in the Senate, but some members expressed concern over the bill’s effect on sports and extracurricular activities and requested a pilot program be used before the measure is rolled out statewide.

Under SB 1112, starting in the 2026-27 school year, middle schools would be required to start no earlier than 8 a.m. High schools wouldn’t be able to start before 8:30 a.m.

Bill sponsor Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, said the move is in line with studies showing adolescent students perform better when they start school later in the day. But he also acknowledged school districts would need to study how best to rework bus schedules and adjust their needs in the three years before the requirement is installed.

“I fully recognize this is a different way of doing things in a lot of areas,” Burgess said. “But I think recognizing the science and the importance of sleep and the need to understand that what we’re doing now is not what’s best for children that are adolescent and going through all those changes — that we can work through those challenges together.”

Sens. Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican, and Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, called on Burgess to insert a pilot program in a handful of counties first to see how the earlier start times work in practice.

Harrell also called for specific reporting requirements from districts regarding costs and the number of new buses and drivers that would be required, and questioned whether later school start times would affect sports practices or prevent high schoolers from work opportunities.

“It gives you no opportunity to work after school and perhaps that’s an issue that we might want to address through some of those pilots in looking at practices for football and basketball,” Harrell said. “We want to make sure we have adequate time to do that as well.”

Burgess said he’s open to a pilot project and was planning to put reporting requirements for districts into the budget.

Other legislators expressed concern about the safety of students, especially in rural areas, heading to bus stops at later times in the morning.

“I want to commend the purpose,” said Chris Doolin, a lobbyist for the Small School District County Consortium. “The reality is this is going to be very complicated.”

The bill passed through the Senate Appropriations Committee on Education on Tuesday with only one “no” vote, from Sen. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat. Davis said she shared the concerns of others regarding cost and the later release time for students.

The bill is now set for its final Senate hearing before hitting the floor on Thursday before the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. The House version of the bill (HB 733) passed that chamber last month on a 92-20 vote.

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