Aug 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden administration offers aid to Florida schools defying DeSantis order

Photo of Ron DeSantis speaking from a podium on the left and Miguel Cardona speaking from a podium on the right

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Photos: Joe Raedle and Win McNamee via Getty Images

The Biden administration is stepping in to offer financial assistance to Florida educators defying Gov. Ron DeSantis' law banning local K-12 mask mandates.

Why it matters: The battle over mask mandates in schools has been brewing for weeks. The Republican governor recently threatened to withhold pay from superintendents and school board members who go against his ban.

The backdrop: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last month recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status.

  • Texas and Florida are among the states barring masking requirements in schools, but several Florida districts have flouted the law, citing COVID concerns.
  • The Education Department is now offering to pay the salaries of Florida school board members who stand to lose state funds as a result.

What they're saying: School districts that lose state funding for enacting local safety measures can pull from federal relief dollars, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a letter to DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Friday.

  • DeSantis' attempts to bar schools from enforcing mask mandates is "deeply" concerning given recent spikes in cases, Cardona said. It "puts students and staff at risk."
  • "The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction," Cardona wrote. Local school leaders should be able to determine their own rules based on their own assessments.
  • "We are eager to partner with [the Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators," Cardona added, warning that his agency will work with school districts directly if need be.

DeSantis maintains it should be up to parents to decide whether their child wears a mask.

  • On Friday, his spokeswoman Christina Pushaw criticized the White House for choosing to spend funds "on the salaries of superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, then on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for," per Politico.

The big picture: The Delta variant has hit Florida particularly hard in recent weeks, with the state setting a new record in daily cases last week.

What to watch: Florida parents, including those of students with disabilities, have filed legal challenges against DeSantis' order.

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