Perry files bill to create local magnet school

State Sen. Keith Perry
State Sen. Keith Perry is seeking legislative approval for a competitive magnet school located in Alachua County.
File photo by Seth Johnson

State Sen. Keith Perry, R-District 8, has filed legislation to create a public magnet school in Alachua County. 

“The primary purpose of the school is to provide a rigorous academic curriculum, and the secondary purpose is to prepare students for regional, state, and national academic competitions in all areas of study, including, but not limited to, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” the bill, SB 1386, says.  

The Florida School for Competitive Academics would serve students from sixth to 12th grades and aims to open for the 2024-2025 school year. It will be governed by a four- to seven-member board of trustees appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate.  

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

“The duties assigned to a district school board apply to the board of trustees,” the bill says.  

Perry said his plan is for the school to mimic the IMG Academy in Bradenton, which is an athletic boarding school serving students from sixth to 12th grades. 

“It would be an IMG kind of model for academics, and the goal there is to recruit young,” Perry said in an interview with Mainstreet Daily News. “If you are going to be a Division 1 baseball player, you don’t start in 10th grade. And that’s just the model they have: get kids who are young, and you train them.” 

Perry said the goal is a school that will provide students with the kind of academic competition that IMG Academy provides for sports. 

“My hope and goal is that we can get this thing up and running and that it will be a model, not only for other high schools around the state to look at, but also other countries to look at,” Perry said. “Whether you are on the university level or high school level, Gator sports are always competing against other SEC schools on a national level, and academics are similar. However, the outcomes are much more important and critical than any athletics.” 

Perry said he has investigated magnet schools in other parts of the country, including Alabama and North Carolina, to see how they have done it. He plans to follow what has worked for them. 

In 2018, Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman of the Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering, worked to bring a magnet school to Huntsville. 

“Around 2016 or 2017, Alabama had two statewide magnet schools, a school for fine arts based in Birmingham, which was the first statewide magnet school, [and] a school of math and science based in Mobile, which was established in the early 1990s’ and for a long period those were the only two magnet schools in the state,” Orr said. “Because Huntsville had such a notoriety for having a very high per capital concentration of engineers, I thought it would be a good thing for us to look as a state [at] having a school for computer science and engineering to capitalize on the engineering base here in Huntsville.” 

Orr said he quickly found a group in Huntsville that was focused on cyber technology and was heavily involved in the city schools, so he pitched his idea for the statewide magnet school to the city’s chamber commerce. 

“The committee said the idea worked perfectly with their vision for a local school based on cyber technology,” Orr said. “Then, we put our heads together and the Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering was hatched.” 

Orr sponsored the bill that Gov. Kay Ivey later signed into law in 2018. He said it was a complex, difficult process.  

“It’s not an easy road, but nothing that’s worth something ever is,” Orr said. “If it was easy, everybody would do it. Hopefully, over time, it will make a difference in the lives of a lot of school children and in our state.” 

Perry said the Gainesville school will start out with mostly local students, then build a residential program that would welcome students from any location. Ultimately, he does not want the idea to stay in Alachua County. 

“Our goal is to take this model and replicate it and put it in other areas around the state and fund public and private partnerships where we can incorporate manufacturing companies such as Mercedes and BMW, like Alabama did,” Perry said. “We have Lockheed Martin and Harris and all the Space Coast including many others that we could partner up with and get them invested as well.” 

Perry, who has been in the roofing business since 1976, said the idea for the school came from his recent research on China and other developing countries that are excelling in certain sciences and technologies. 

“We 100 percent cannot have countries like China, dominate in science and technology,” Perry said. We just can’t do it. It’s not a world that you and I would want to live in.” 

Perry said he’s also actively working through the initial budget process to figure what the school would cost. He said he’s doing an analysis that involves predicting the number of students who would attend the school on a yearly basis. 

In the next few weeks, Perry said his team should have budgets for the first, second and third year of the school’s development. His goal is to get the Legislature to make an initial $3 million to $4 million investment in the school during the ongoing legislative session, which began last week and will run until May 5.

For the project to come to fruition, Perry said he must get the Florida Senate, House, and the governor on board—a process he’s already begun. 

“I’m encouraged that the governor and his staff understand the importance of this and how it benefits the state,” Perry said. 

Perry reported “a lot” of support from his colleagues in the Legislature, but he said they are up against a tight timeline because the language of the bill “took more time than we thought.”  

“Now, the race begins,” Perry said.  

— With reporting by J.C. Derrick and Seth Johnson 

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Will the state fund the school forever? If not, I don’t want my local school taxes to go toward a school unless its board is elected locally and not appointed by a governor. And why do we need this in Gainesville where we have magnet schools in 6th grade and up and the outstanding IB and Cambridge programs?

John M

IB and Cambridge are not advanced enough for students doing high level math, science, history etc. and the purpose of this school is to one day serve the very best students from across the state. It will train them competitively while AP teaches students to do the bare minimum to pass the exam. Meanwhile, the local middle school “magnets” have had their entire staff leave for high-schools or other opportunities and are left with inexperienced teachers and a non-rigorous curriculum. This school is the only solution for the county and the state as a whole to give the most talented kids a place to challenge themselves instead of being bored or leaving their potential untapped in normal public schools.


This could really be a Godsend to our Children. Can I opt for my Alachua County School property taxes go to support it instead of the same ole, same ole failed regime running things amuck for the past decade?