House Republicans from Florida’s congressional delegation are pushing back against President Joe Biden‘s U.S. Department of Education (DOE) after the department threatened Florida for not imposing student mask requirements.
The letter, led by Congresswoman Kat Cammack along with Florida Republicans Byron Donalds, Greg Steube, Dan Webster, Bill Posey, Scott Franklin and Gus Bilirakis, holds DOE’s feet to the fire for “politicizing school funding” and openly supporting school board officials who defy Florida’s decision to not implement statewide masking mandates on K-12 kids.
“We write in response to your October 25th letter threatening ‘enforcement actions’ against the Florida Department of Education for its decision to limit state education funding to the school boards of Alachua County and Broward County. It is unconscionable that the U.S. Department of Education is attempting to further politicize school funding in order to subsidize the salaries of school board officials who directly defied the Governor’s orders prohibiting mask mandates in the state,” Cammack and her colleagues write in the letter.
The response is the latest clash between the feds and Florida, which began when Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 that gave parents the final say on whether their children would be required to wear masks while attending school in Florida. Additionally, DeSantis’ order directed Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to withhold funding to “noncompliant” school boards who chose to rebuff the executive order.
DeSantis’ decision to bar local school boards from masking students would continue to play out on a national stage, as Biden and the federal government attempted to circumvent Florida’s approach to masking policies. The back-and-forth feud reached a crucial juncture on Aug.30, when the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) began withholding funding for Alachua and Broward counties in amounts equal to the monthly salaries of school board members who voted for mask mandates.
The move prompted DOE to step in and fund the district through government grants. But funds were quickly cut off on Oct 7, after the state board voted to sanction eight counties, including Alachua and Broward, for defying the Department of Health rule that banned local mask mandates requiring a doctor’s note to opt-out. The vote not only withheld salaries but also blocked federal dollars used to make up the state funds.
The fight would reach a tipping point last week, after the DOE followed up on the October vote by sending a letter to Corcoran, warning that withholding federal funds from districts that enacted mask mandates would make the state out of compliance with federal law.
In the Thursday letter, the Florida caucus addressed the federal grants — totaling $569,000 — calling them a “gross misuse of funds.”
“The Department of Education’s grants totaling nearly $569,000 to the Alachua County and Broward County school boards under the Project to Support America’s Families and Educators goes against the orders of Governor DeSantis while a court case is ongoing. Moreover, the authority for the grant program cited by the Department of Education is a gross misuse of funds that are intended for National Activities for School Safety. Section 4631(a)(1)(B) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act states that the Secretary “may use a portion of such funds to carry out other activities to improve students’ safety and well-being, during and after the school day, under this section directly or through grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements with public or private entities or individuals, or other Federal agencies, such as providing technical assistance to States and local educational agencies carrying out activities under this section or conducting a national evaluation,” the letter continues.
The group of GOP lawmakers also questioned the use of the funds, adding that school board salaries do little to improve or protect the lives of students, which the DOE claims the dollars are for.
“In the Department of Education’s notice of the grant, the Department states, “[t]he funding will help districts keep these measures in place and maintain district and school stability despite the financial penalty. Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) will use these funds to stabilize district staffing and compensation levels necessary to keep CDC recommended strategies in place, promoting student safety for its 29,761 students.
“How do school board members’ salaries improve students’ safety and well-being?” the group asks. “In your letter, you cite section 8522 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, which states, ‘A State shall not take into consideration payments under this Act…in determining…the amount of State aid, with respect to free public education of children.’ Your letter suggests that grants to pay the salaries of school board members affect the ‘free public education of children.’ In no way should these grants be construed to affect children’s education.
In an accompanying press release, Cammack doubled-down on the politicization of school funding to subsidize the salaries of school board officials, calling on Biden and the DOE to end threats levied at the Sunshine State.
“Not only have the funds for these Florida counties been misappropriated, but the federal Department of Education cannot be used as a political tool to punish decisions that are clearly under the state of Florida’s purview,” said Cammack. “We urge the Biden Administration and the Department of Education to end their retaliation against the Sunshine State and get back to its mandate: educating American students.”
To view the full letter, click here.