Saying teens need more sleep to perform better in school, a Florida House subcommittee on Thursday advanced legislation to require later start times for public middle and high schools.
The bill, a priority of House Speaker Paul Renner, would mandate that middle schools begin classes no earlier than 8 a.m. daily, and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
“Quality sleep is also critical to children’s learning and mental health,” Renner said during his speech to open the legislative session this week, “so we will pursue appropriate school start times as a zero-cost way to improve both academic scores and mental well-being.”
Currently, 76% of high schools across Florida start their day before 8:30 a.m., with 48% opening daily before 7:30 a.m., according to the House analysis of the proposal (HB 733). Several scientific studies have shown that teens struggle to fall asleep before 10 or 11 p.m., and to wake before 8 a.m.
“As educators, what are we there to do? It’s the academics,” said bill sponsor Rep. John Paul Temple, a Wildwood Republican who works as a Sumter County schools administrator. “Adjusting the start time will definitely have a positive impact.”
Dr. Brandon Seay, a Tallahassee pediatrician representing the American Academy of Pediatrics Florida chapter, testified that his organization has supported such a move since 2014. He said medical research about children’s sleep patterns indicates it would help teens do better in classes, because they would be more rested, while also helping with attendance and safety issues.
In one area where high schools started later, Seay said, the schools saw a decrease in tardiness and absenteeism, as well as a steep decline in student morning car accidents.
Rep. Susan Valdés, D-Tampa, asked what the research showed about having elementary students start earlier, a likely consequence of pushing the other schools later.
“They are able to get to sleep a little bit earlier,” Seay said, mentioning 8 p.m. as a viable bedtime. “They are still able to get the appropriate amount of sleep with an earlier start time.”
Dozens of Tampa Bay area schools would be affected by the legislation.
Pinellas County’s 17 high schools start at 7:35 a.m. or earlier. Ten of Pasco County’s 17 high schools start at 7:16 a.m. or earlier, and another five start between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Hernando County’s five high schools start at 7:20 a.m. or earlier.
Six of Pasco’s 17 middle schools start before 8 a.m.
Most middle schools in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties start after 9:30 a.m. and would not be affected. Nor would Hernando middle schools, which start at 9:10 a.m., or Hillsborough high schools, which moved start times to 8:30 a.m. in 2017.
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The proposed change did not come without concerns in Thursday’s committee meeting.
Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, raised questions about the financial and time costs for working families with several children, like her own. They might face added costs to provide before- or after-school care, she said, as well as struggle to juggle school transportation with job demands.
“We should be in the business of helping those parents,” said Nixon, who opposed the bill. “It shouldn’t be at the detriment of their pocketbook.”
Rep. Kevin Chambliss, D-Homestead, said many parents drive their children to high school before going to work at 7 a.m. He wondered if the bill might be amended to include a provision allowing students to go to campuses early, to accommodate those families.
Temple said schools are allowed to open early now, and some do. It’s a matter of staffing and funding.
For the most part, the proposal drew praise on its way to a near unanimous bipartisan vote in favor.
Rep. Lisa Dunkley, D-Sunrise, said the parents and teachers she spoke to were grateful to hear of the proposal, saying students and schools alike could benefit from the change.
Rep. Jessica Baker, R-Jacksonville, said she was pleased to see the committee focusing on the science of sleep in discussing school start times. She recalled her time in high school as one where she would spend afternoons in activities and nights studying, and then have to wake up at 5 a.m. to prepare for classes.
“As a girl in a high school, you need a couple of hours to get ready,” Baker said. “I think this is a great idea.”
If approved, the measure would take effect in fall 2026. It has two more House committee stops, and the identical Senate companion (SB 1112) has three committee assignments.
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