Florida Forgoes $2.3 Billion of School Aid on Deadline Miss
(Bloomberg) -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has feuded with school districts over mask mandates, is temporarily foregoing $2.3 billion of federal education aid because the state has failed to submit a plan for how it would spend the money.
DeSantis’s government said it doesn’t need the money, even as the U.S. Department of Education said it was the only state to take such a position.
In a letter dated Monday, the U.S. Department of Education told Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran that the federal government couldn’t release the latest tranche of school funds made available under the American Rescue Plan without the document. The department said it was the only state that had failed to provide the required proposal.
Florida was allocated more than $7 billion of emergency relief funds for schools, with the first two-thirds released in March and the remainder due after the state provides the additional information.
But it missed a June deadline for submitting the plan, as well as July and August extensions agreed upon “following conversations with your staff,” according to the letter, which was signed by Deputy Assistant Secretary Ian Rosenblum.
The Department of Education said it has also received word from parents, teachers and school districts that Florida hasn’t awarded the existing funds to districts.
DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said the state does intend to eventually apply for the remaining funds, noting that the funds are intended to last through September 2024.
“It is difficult to take seriously the fictitious cries for urgency from these D.C. bureaucrats,” she said, dismissing the Department of Education communique as being part of a “childish letter-writing tirade.”
DeSantis has feuded with the Biden Administration in recent months over the state’s move to prohibit mask mandates that don’t have a parental opt-out provision. In a conference call Thursday, Florida’s State Board of Education is expected to weigh the path forward for the school districts that are openly defying the rule, including the largest five. The board has already withheld funds from two defiant districts -- Alachua and Broward -- and more could follow, but the Biden Administration has pledged to offset those financial losses.
Pushaw portrayed the squabble over funding as part of the ongoing back-and-forth between the Department of Education and DeSantis’s government.
“We’re not going be held hostage by this persistent badgering by the U.S. Department of Education,” she said.
Asked about the funding, Hillsborough County Public Schools, one of the state’s largest districts, provided a Sept. 21 letter to Commissioner Corcoran, which said funding was “desperately needed in these challenging times.” It said it wanted money to, among other thing, invest in staffing, technology and mental wellness.
DeSantis’s spokeswoman said the Hillsborough district still has access to “unspent” emergency funding totaling more than $139 million.
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