Twelve Florida school districts could face a collective financial penalty of $200 million after they were resistant to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order barring the implementation of mask mandates in schools. State education leaders referred to the proposed punishment as a consequence of defying state law.
The 12 districts — Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota, and Volusia Counties — implemented mask mandates to begin the 2020-21 academic school year despite the ire of lawmakers who passed legislation to prevent them from being enacted. Now, Rep. Randy Fine, who chairs the Pre-K to 12th Grade Appropriations subcommittee, wants to take $200 million from the salaries of over a thousand district officials, including grant directors, budget managers, and financial analysts who eclipse $100,000 annually. The money taken from the 12 school districts would then be allocated to the 55 that adhered to the executive order.
“They didn’t defy the mask ban, they broke the law. They acted in an illegal way and they engaged in the second-largest state-sponsored act of child abuse in the history of Florida,” the representative said. “Decisions have consequences we in the legislature have the obligation to hold school districts accountable that refuse to follow the laws that we’ve passed”
Last August, Gov. DeSantis threatened to withhold salaries from school district board members that followed through with their threat to impose masking on school children, which he ultimately followed through on in Alachua and Broward Counties. The Biden administration ultimately swooped in and granted officials the amount of their salary that was withheld in federal dollars.
When asked whether he supports Rep. Fine’s proposal, he claimed that he has not yet seen it.
“I haven’t seen it, and so I’m not sure, but we spoke very clearly this summer with the Parents’ Bill of Rights, and most school districts in Florida followed state law. You could see it in the Tampa Bay area, Pinellas [County] had parents’ rights, Hillsborough [County] defied the law, but the outcome was the same,” said DeSantis. “I don’t know what they’re doing beyond that, but what I do know is that it’s important that school districts follow the law, particularly when it comes to parents’ rights.”
While no formal legislation has been composed, Rep. Fine appears headstrong in his goal to get the proposal passed. The House Apportions Committee is set to debate the guidelines and structure of the proposal later this week, where the possibility of a bill proposal can be brought into play.