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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Year-round school in Florida to address COVID-19 learning losses? A pilot program could address that

empty desk in a classroom with some kids visible from the back
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A House panel supported launching a pilot program of year-round schools, with the plan’s sponsor suggesting it could help students recover from learning losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A House subcommittee approved a bill that would set up a pilot program for four years, with a goal of studying “benefits” of a year-long school schedule.

A House panel on Tuesday supported launching a pilot program of year-round schools, with the plan’s sponsor suggesting it could help students recover from learning losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State law requires school boards to operate public schools for 180 days a year or the hourly equivalent, but schools are able to operate on year-round schedules, a House staff analysis said.

The House Choice & Innovation Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (HB 891) that would set up a pilot program for four years, with a goal of studying “benefits” of a year-long school schedule.

“The purpose of the program is for the Department of Education to assist school districts in establishing a year-round school program within at least one elementary school in the district and study the issues, benefits, and schedule options for instituting year-round school programs for all students,” an introductory part of the bill said.

Districts could apply to participate in the program. The state education commissioner would select five districts to participate, and to “the extent possible,” those districts would “represent a variety of demographics, including, but not limited to, an urban, suburban, and rural school district.”

Bill sponsor Patricia Williams, D-Pompano Beach, said benefits of a year-round schedule include the potential to help students rebound from education disruptions suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Number one, this bill could help every child that participates. Number two, we have lost two years due to COVID for education. Number three, crime increases during the time our children are out of school in the juvenile-kids age range,” Williams told the House panel.

Districts that apply would have to provide information about the numbers of students enrolled in elementary schools that would participate, the academic performances and rates of absenteeism of those students and “commitment of such school's or schools' instructional personnel and students to the year-round school program.”

Districts seeking to participate also would have to provide an “explanation of how the implementation of the year-round school program will benefit the students.”

After the four-year pilot ends, the education commissioner would provide a report to the governor, Senate president and House speaker that would include a recommendation on the “adoption of year-round school programs for all students.”

Rep. Kevin Chambliss, D-Homestead, drew laughs Tuesday as he expressed support for the measure.

“I just wanted to volunteer my kids to be guinea pigs and make sure that they can participate in this,” Chambliss joked.

Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, has filed a similar bill (SB 1564), which has not been heard in Senate committees.