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Senate President is open to talks on a House plan to punish school districts over masks

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson addresses a legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson says he's open to discussing a House proposal to pull $200 million in funding from the defiant districts.

Districts that defied a mask mandate ban would get a smaller funding increase under the budget proposal.

The Florida Senate passed its budget proposal Thursday. The spending plan includes an increase in per-student funding for K-12 schools.

The state House budget plan also includes more money for schools, but a provision in that chamber’s bill gives a smaller increase to a dozen districts that kept student mask mandates in place after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning the mandates.

Senate President Wilton Simpson said as lawmakers prepare to meet in conference to hammer out the differences in budget proposals, he’s approaching that issue with an open mind.

“You have school boards that defied an executive order, so what should the penalty for that be? It’s no different than in [SB] 2508, if a South Florida Water Management District defies state law, what should we do about that? And so I think that’s a discussion we’re still going to have. We certainly will discuss that in conference," Simpson said.

Simpson said he expects part of the debate to center on whether there’s a difference between running afoul of an executive order compared to a law. After some districts defied DeSantis’ order, lawmakers met in a special session to codify the order in state law.

The House measure, proposed by Rep. Randy Fine, would withhold $200 million from the 12 districts and redistribute that money to the other districts. Fine’s proposal targets district administrators with no cuts to student programs.

The proposal has DeSantis' backing after he initially said he did not support the reductions.

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