With Governor Ron DeSantis holding the line on his position to defund school boards that implement mask mandates for students without provisions for parents to opt-out of the policy, one Florida entrepreneur is setting aside a trust fund to provide weekly pay to educational leaders who defy the Governor’s executive order.
But now Andrew Davies, CEO of SPOL, an EdTech leader in Accreditation and Institutional Effectiveness software, announced on Wednesday that he has set aside $500,000.00 to fund a trust that will be used to pay school boards. The trust, which will be tentatively named “The Children First Trust” will provide school leaders their weekly paycheck if the Florida Board of Education withholds salary because they implemented a mask mandate for their schools.
In sharp contrast with DeSantis, who believes parents should have the final say in the matter rather than elected officials, Davies says that while he supports DeSantis on several issues, he believes that school board officials should be the ones who decide what is best for all returning students – without having their pay threatened. Davies declined to answer follow-up questions about parents having the ability to opt their students out of the policy if they had reason to believe the mask mandate would be harmful to their child.
“I voted for Governor DeSantis and support his leadership, but I believe it is important for education professionals to decide what is best for the health and wellness of all children in their charge. It is our intent that ‘The Children First Trust’ will pay any affected school leader who has had their pay withheld so that their decisions on masking will be made solely on the basis of what is in the best interests of the children and their loved ones,” Davies said in a press release, noting that the trust will be further funded by donations. “It is also our intent that ‘The Children First Trust’ will be further funded by a planned GoFundMe campaign so that others can support those school leaders who are penalized for choosing what is best for the children in their district.”
According to the press release sent on Davies’ behalf, school boards penalized by the Board of Education’s decision to withhold pay will be able to apply to the “Children’s First Trust” for weekly checks in the amount of their lost wages. Davies added that he hopes the move will encourage the Governor to have an open discussion about the issue.
“We will continue to pay these school leaders as long as the Trust has the funds,” said Davies. “Although I would like an opportunity to discuss the masking policy with the Governor, I don’t believe a paycheck should be allowed to affect sound, local judgment. I’d like to invite Governor DeSantis to an honest dialog about this issue. I await only his invitation.”
School boards across the state have hit back at DeSantis after he threatened to defund school boards that insist on mask mandates for students without a provision for parents to opt-out of the program. Last month, DeSantis signed an executive order that gave parents the final say on whether their children will be required to wear masks while attending school in Florida. But school boards like Broward County have not backed down from its position that masks will be mandatory for the upcoming school year, voting 8-1 on Tuesday to retain its mandate when school begins later this month.
Democratic lawmakers have also shown support for personnel if DeSantis decides to withhold funding from schools. On Monday, Florida Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book and fellow members of the Senate Democratic Caucus leadership team announced their intention to launch a GoFundMe campaign to support public education leaders if DeSantis follows through with threats to withhold their salaries as punishment for requiring masks in schools. The move by officials is not affiliated with Davies’ trust fund.
Book, along with Senators Lori Berman, Jason Pizzo, and Bobby Powell sent a letter to Florida’s 67 School Superintendents and School Boards across the state, urging them to buck political pressure from the Governor and instead follow the guidance of public health officials.
“If the Governor chooses to defund public education and withhold salaries from educators as punishment for protecting students’ health and safety, we will fill the gap to support them in this fight,” Book said in a press release.
Brian Burgess contributed to this report.