Fla. House tweaks autonomous-school proposal to create ‘innovation zones’

Travis Pillow

Florida school districts could create networks of autonomous public schools in “innovation zones” under a new proposal in the state House.

It’s the latest iteration of an autonomous-school concept in HB 7055. That bill awaits final action today by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Senate has proposed a different model. Its “franchise schools” proposal would allow top principals to create mini-networks that combine high-performing campuses with struggling turnaround schools. Those schools would remain under direct district control, rather than under independent oversight boards, as the House first proposed.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is a former public-school administrator and the House education budget chief. He added the new “innovation zone” proposal to HB 495, a separate education bill.

It would eliminate the independent boards, which created some controversy during previous House hearings.

Here’s a key provision spelling out the new concept:

To encourage further innovation and expand the reach of highly effective principals trained through this program district school boards may authorize these principals to manage multiple schools within a zone. A zone may include the school at which the principal is assigned, persistently low-performing schools, feeder pattern schools, or a group of schools identified by the school district. The principal may allocate resources and personnel between the schools under his or her administration.

The measure would also expand a public-school principal autonomy program.

The House Education Committee approved the revised measure today without debate, in what could be a move toward the legislative endgame between the House and Senate. It creates a new avenue for lawmakers to pass the autonomous-schools concept, as well as provisions of HB 7055 affecting charter schools. That could matter in the coming days, as the specifics of the wide-ranging education legislation remain unclear.

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