Biden administration files cease, refrain from preventing Florida from withholding school funds for mask warrants

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Top line

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday filed a legal complaint to prevent Florida from withholding funds from schools with mask warrants, after the state’s Department of Education withdrew money from two school districts to reverse grants they received from the federal government to offset state sanctions on their mask orders.

Highlights

The DOE has filed a complaint seeking a cease and desist order with the agency’s Office of Administrative Law Judges asking it to order Florida to comply with federal law and freeze its withholding of funds .

The DOE alleges that Florida’s decision to try to prevent schools from receiving federal funding violates the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which prevents states from considering federal funds when they determine the amount of public aid received by schools.

School districts in Alachua and Broward counties have received federal grants and have seen their public funding cut as a result – the complaint seeks to prevent funds from being withheld from those districts and any others that Florida is trying to punish in the future.

Florida has also withheld funding for school districts with mask warrants in an amount equal to the salaries of their school board members, but the DOE’s complaint only targets the state’s decision to freeze an amount equivalent to the grants. federal school districts.

Florida’s education commissioner previously told the federal government the agency did not believe it violated federal law by depriving districts of funding, the complaint notes.

Crucial quote

“This action taken by the department comes after we have made repeated requests to work together and protect students, educators and school communities,” a spokesperson for the United States Department of Education said in a statement to Forbes. “We believe the Florida actions violated federal law by reducing state funds based on the receipt by districts of federal funds.”

Chief critic

“Yes, we have received another harassing and legally empty letter from the US DOE, and once again, we will continue to move forward, legally, as we have been doing all this time,” the Department spokesperson said. Florida Education, Jared Ochs. Forbes in an email Thursday.

Large number

Over $ 619,000. This is the amount the Florida Department of Education withheld from Alachua and Broward counties combined this month, according to the Associated Press, which includes both the amount of salaries for members of their council. administration and the amount they received in federal funding. Alachua County reported on Wednesday that the state had withheld more than $ 164,000 and Broward had more than $ 455,000 withdrawn from its funding.

What to watch out for

The complaint notes that an administrative hearing will be held on Dec. 10 to determine whether Florida will be forced to restore funding to the districts.

Key context

Florida is one of at least 10 states to block or prevent school districts from imposing strict mask mandates, forcing schools to let parents opt out of all mask orders. An appeals court has let Florida policy remain in place at least for the time being, although several other legal challenges against it remain unresolved. A dozen of the state’s school districts, including those representing its largest cities, imposed warrants in defiance of the state’s ban, prompting the Florida school board to vote to punish them by withholding funds equal to the salaries of their members. The US DOE responded to this decision by establishing a new Project SAFE grant that specifically awards funds to schools that have been penalized for their Covid-19 mitigation measures, prompting the Florida school board to step up their penalties. and target federal funds. In addition to awarding grants, the federal agency has also launched civil rights investigations in Florida and other states where school mask bans are in effect, which will determine whether state policies are illegally discriminatory. with regard to students with disabilities.

Further reading

US files cease and desist from action against state for funding Broward schools (Miami Herald)

Contempt for Florida’s White House penalizes school districts (Associated Press)

Florida school board punishes schools with mask warrants – and tries to neutralize White House efforts to help them (Forbes)

Biden administration distributes money to Florida schools penalized for imposing mask warrants against state rules (Forbes)

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