Alachua and Broward school officials say the state has docked funds equal to federal aid
The state Department of Education has withheld hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding from the districts because of their masking policies, defying warnings from the Biden administration.
The state has withheld funding from the Alachua and Broward school districts over their coronavirus mask mandates, flouting threats from White House officials who warned that such penalties would violate federal law.
School officials in Alachua and Broward counties on Wednesday said the state Department of Education docked school board salaries and overall funding in amounts equal to federal aid packages meant to blunt the state’s sanctions on mask requirements.
This month, more than $164,000 was withheld from the Alachua school district and more than $455,000 was withheld from Broward.
"I am appalled that the state would penalize the district by pulling funding we have not even received," Alachua Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a statement. She said the county had not yet used any of the federal funds.
The penalties are the latest development in an ongoing feud between the White House and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration over coronavirus regulations. DeSantis is one of several GOP governors who have moved to ban mask mandates.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to try to stave off an attempt to prevent the grant funds from making up state money lost by the school boards.
The letter said if the federal funds were withheld, the state would be in violation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and “enforcement action” would follow.
The federal funding was awarded through a grant program titled Project SAFE, or Supporting America’s Families and Educators.
During an Oct. 7 meeting of the State Board of Education, Corcoran characterized the grants as an attempt by the federal government to “buy off school districts” and to “neutralize and abolish” the state board’s enforcement authority.
Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.