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Florida Legislation Would Mandate Later Start Time for High Schools

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A new Florida bill would ensure that the state's high school students have a little more time to catch up on their sleep. The measure's implications for districts, though, continue to be debated among policy and education leaders.

Filed by state Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican, the bill would make it impossible for any Florida high schools to begin the school day before 8 a.m. starting with the 2014-2015 school year, reports the Tampa Tribune. A House committee is expected to take up the measure early next year, the newspaper reports. State Sen. Nancy Detert, also a Republican, also plans to introduce a version of the bill in her chamber before it will be heard in House committees in either January or February, reports the Tampa Tribune. A House committee is expected to take up the measure early next year, the newspaper says.

In making the case for his bill, Rep. Gaetz argues that adequate sleep is correlated with improved academic performance.

A recent Education Week story highlighted this issue, with a look at some research on the subject and efforts to highlight the value of later start times. Sleep deprivation is considered a widespread health problem for adolescents, it notes. While the exact benefits of adequate sleep are hard to pinpoint, a May 2012 study found that, for middle school students in Wake County, N.C., a later start time correlated with a 2 to 3 percentile point jump in standardized math and reading test scores. 

According to the Education Week story, experts recommend that high-school-age young people get around nine hours of sleep—not an easy feat for those students whose classes begin at 7:30 a.m.

The Tribune story, meanwhile, quotes Rep. Gaetz explaining his measure. "In the state of Florida, we spend oodles of money perfecting the content we deliver to students, but if they're not ready to receive that content, it's like spending a bunch of money to purify water to pour in a bucket when there's a whole in the bottom of the bucket," he said.

However, district leaders have expressed skepticism of this proposal—especially those in larger districts, many of which use one fleet of buses to deliver students in waves as a money-saving measure. Starting high schools later would mean that middle and elementary school start times would also be pushed up, causing younger students to wait for buses or walk to school before the sun comes up, they argue.

This debate isn't unique to Florida. In August, in fact, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that arguments in favor of later school start times made sense.

And earlier this year, Education Week reported that the Fairxfax County, Va. school district created an "opt-out program" for its seniors that allowed them to start their school day as late as 10:30 a.m.

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