Feds threaten to ‘stop’ Florida from withholding districts’ mask mandate federal aid

Miami Herald | By Ana Ceballos, Herald/Tallahassee Times Bureau | Updated October 26, 2021


The U.S. Department of Education jumped back on Florida’s mask mandate battle on Monday, this time warning the state that it will intervene if the Florida Department of Education sanctions districts to offset federal grant awards.

The latest threat comes a couple weeks after the State Board of Education authorized the FDOE to withhold funds from two districts, Broward and Alachua, that received federal grant awards from the Biden administration to backfill state sanctions over their masking rules.

The districts applied for the federal grants after the state withheld funds in an amount equal to the salaries of school board members who voted to require students to wears masks. The federal grants are part of a new program designed specifically to cover any financial sanctions that school districts face because of their mask rules.

Florida would be failing to comply with federal requirements if it follows through with its plan to withhold funds from the districts, wrote Ian Rosenblum, the deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

“If FLDOE moves forward with its planned reduction of state aid to Alachua and Broward, the department is prepared to initiate enforcement action to stop these impermissible state actions,” Rosenblum said.

It is unclear what kind of action the federal government could take against the state. The hope, Rosenblum wrote, is that Corcoran will reconsider his threatened actions against Broward and Alachua.

Corcoran has not signaled any intent of backing down, though.

“Yes, we received another harassing and legally hollow letter from U.S. DOE, and again we will continue forward, lawfully, as we have this entire time,” FDOE spokesman Jared Ochs said in response to Wednesday’s letter to Corcoran.

At a State Board of Education meeting earlier this month, Corcoran said the federal grants were encouraging districts to violate Florida law.

“Floridians should be offended by the Biden administration’s use of federal taxes in an attempt to make the enforcement of Florida’s laws so ineffective,” he said.

The Biden administration has sent $420,957 to Broward County Public Schools and $148,000 to Alachua County Public Schools to counteract fines levied by the state.

Alachua and Broward were the first to apply successfully for federal aid. The districts are among the eight districts — including Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties — that are facing state cutbacks as a result of their masking policies.

The Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran
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