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An employee wearing a protective mask distributes laptop computers to students at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Greg Ducey is offering $7,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to parents whose children's school requires them to wear masks, KJZZ reports.

Driving the news: Interest in the program, which enables parents to use the funds to send their child to a different private school, has surged since applications opened in August, per the National Public Radio member station in Phoenix.

  • The Republican governor, who is using federal funds for the voucher program, has said that schools that implement mask mandates and other COVID-19 mitigation measures are "playing games."

The big picture: The program expands upon Arizona's preexisting state-funded school voucher system, which critics say is an example of "Republicans trying to undermine public education," KJZZ writes.

  • The state Republican Party has sought to grow the number of students eligible for vouchers.
  • "Here we have what I perceive to be the governor advancing a political agenda and using public health mitigation measures to do it, and I find it to be highly objectionable, to put it mildly," said Chris Kotterman, director of government relations for the Arizona School Boards Association.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department has said that states should not use federal funds to hinder schools' ability to contain the spread of COVID-19, but the government has not directly intervened in this particular case.

What he's saying: "What I want to make certain is any dollar that we do spend, we're doing it effectively with a return on the investment," Ducey said.

Advocates of public schools fear that Ducey's program will take dollars away from public schools, as fewer students enrolled in the state's public school system means less state and federal funding.

  • "This program feels especially shameless, because it's federal dollars that were earmarked to keep children in our school safe," Beth Lewis, a parent, teacher and leader of Save our Schools Arizona, told KJZZ.

Go deeper: School mask mandate fight goes beyond battleground states. 

Go deeper

Oct 18, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Minnesota offers cash and chance at $100K scholarship as vaccine incentive for teens

Expand chart
Data: Minnesota COVID-19 Response; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Minnesota is offering new incentives to shot-wary teens in an effort to boost the state's COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Driving the news: 12 to 17 year olds who get both doses over the next six weeks will receive a $200 Visa gift card, Gov. Tim Walz's administration announced Monday.

  • Kids vaccinated during this period can also enter a lottery for one of five $100,000 scholarships to attend any of the state's public or private colleges or universities.

Why it matters: Public health officials say increasing vaccination rates among young Minnesotans is key to curbing spread of the virus, especially in schools.

Columbus offering bigger bonuses for school bus drivers

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

Bonuses up to $2,000 are coming for Columbus City Schools bus drivers and other non-teaching employees as part of a new two-year agreement with their union that school board members approved Tuesday.

Why it matters: The move is the latest example of school districts across the U.S. trying to entice and retain workers amid a labor shortage. Locally, Licking Heights and South-Western schools are also offering similar bonus programs.

School enrollment fell by almost 3 million from 2019 to 2020

Kindergarten student Natalia Bayoumi holds the hand of her father, Amir, as he walks to the front door of Normont Elementary School in Harbor City, California. Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The number of individuals enrolled in the U.S. education system dropped by 2.9 million from 2019 to 2020, according to new data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Why it matters: This marks the lowest level of school enrollment for those under 35 years old in over 20 years, per the Census Bureau.