New freedoms may be coming for Florida’s top-performing public schools

Erin Grall

Florida’s highest-performing public schools would get greater operational freedom under a measure approved today by a state House panel.

HB 1331 would ease regulations for “Schools of Excellence” — public schools whose academic performance ranks among the state’s top 20 percent in their grade range at least two out of three consecutive years.

Principals in those schools would get more freedom to make their own budget and staffing decisions. Their teachers would get credit toward continuing-education requirements for their certifications. The schools would be free of district or statewide mandates on the amount of time they must devote to reading instruction. Like charter schools and district-run schools of choice, they would have more flexibility under state class-size mandates.

“It would encourage innovation,” bill sponsor Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, told the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran first floated the concept several months ago.

For the past several years, House Republicans, who tend to back school choice in all its forms, have tried to extend charter school-like freedoms to more traditional public schools.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, whose wife sits on the Collier County School Board, said the newest proposal would help elevate high-performing principals.

“We can find and identify those leaders, and empower them to truly be leaders of their institutions,” he said.

The bill would also give greater authority to principals tasked with turning around D- and F-rated schools. Newly hired principals in those schools would get the flexibility granted to school leaders participating in the state’s new principal autonomy pilot program. The flexibility would remain until they raised their school’s grade to a C.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has filed a similar bill in the state Senate.

The House measure also includes the provisions of a separate bill, HB 1111, which would create a new, mentorship-based path to teaching certificates. The House subcommittee also approved that bill this afternoon.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)

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