The Biden administration has put the team of Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on notice over their targeting of teachers in response to COVID-19-related mandates. Specifically, the DeSantis administration previously began withholding state funding from local school districts in amounts equal to the salaries of school board officials who backed mask mandates. In response to that move, the Biden administration began dishing out federal grant money to affected districts to help cover the gaps. Now, the Education Department has warned a top education official in DeSantis’s administration that they’re not permitted to withhold state funding to local school districts in amounts equal to any federal grants, including the recent support tied to mandates.
For the DeSantis administration to hold back money meant for local school districts in amounts equal to the recent federal grants would presumably be meant as a retaliatory measure. Miami Herald reporter Ana Ceballos explained as follows:
‘The U.S. Department of Education has sent a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran warning the state cannot withhold funds in an amount equal to any federal grant awards to districts, including those meant to backfill mask mandate penalties.’
NEW: The U.S. Department of Education has sent a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran warning the state cannot withhold funds in an amount equal to any federal grant awards to districts, including those meant to backfill mask mandate penalties.
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— Ana Ceballos (@anaceballos_) October 25, 2021
Like other Republican leaders, DeSantis has been steadfast in his opposition to basic safety measures like mandates to wear face masks in schools, although no age group is somehow immune from the potentially deadly effects of COVID-19 — and many younger children up to this point haven’t even been eligible for COVID-19 vaccines at all. Although DeSantis and his team have been forthright in their attempts to block the imposition of school mask mandates, certain areas have put such policies in place anyway. One such school district was Alachua County, which was the first to receive a grant from the federal government to make up for money withheld by the state. At the time of that grant’s announcement, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona commented in part as follows:
‘We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them. We stand with the dedicated educators in Alachua and across the country doing the right thing to protect their school communities, and with today’s first-ever award under Project SAFE, we are further enabling educators to continue that critical work.’
Separately, federal authorities have also opened a civil rights investigation into DeSantis’s school mask policy on the basis of the idea that it may impede the rights of medically vulnerable children who can’t safely attend schools without mask-wearing mandates in place. Other GOP-led states with similar policies are facing similar investigations.