Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis supports a controversial proposal to cut off $ 200 million in education funding from Democratic constituencies that violated his last year’s decree banning masked mandates in schools.
DeSantis, who is considered Donald Trump’s leading successor in the Republican Party, plans to send money mainly to the Republican districts that supported him.
The plan, which some analysts consider almost certainly unconstitutional, was part of a budget bill that on Wednesday passed a Republican-dominated house in Florida.
This was immediately attacked by teachers’ unions, school districts and education advocates, who say the fines will deprive classrooms of additional resources in a state that is already in the top four spending on every student in the country.
“It’s revenge on the part of lawmakers and the governor,” said Jabari Hozi, president of the Families for Safe Schools advocacy group and the father of school-age children in Brevard County.
“We now have more than 150 teachers in Brevard. We need more social workers, there is a performance gap because of Covid, which is still present in our community. We need more funds, more opportunities, more instructors.
“Responding and attacking the public school system they are supposed to promote is very sad. Honestly, it’s a shame. “
According to a proposal by Congressman Randy Fine, school districts in 12 Florida counties that implemented mask mandates last summer contrary to DeSantis ’order will be deprived of sums depending on their size.
Brevard, where Hozy’s children attend school and representing Fine, will give up $ 4.5 million.
Two-thirds of the money will come from South Florida, which in the local, state and state elections votes the vast majority of the Democratic Party. Miami-Dade, the nation’s fourth-largest district with 357,000 students, will lose $ 72 million; Broward, the sixth-largest of 270,000 students, would lose about $ 32 million; and Palm Beach, the 10th largest of 193,000, would have given up $ 28 million.
Of the others, Alachua, Duvall, Hillsboro, Indian River, Leon, Orange, Sarasota and Volusia counties, all but three supported Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election in Florida, which was won by Donald Trump.
“Compliance with the law is not mandatory. These school districts have broken the law, and they have been broken in vain, ”Fine said on Wednesday, visibly angry.
Last week, during a tumultuous session of the Florida House Appropriations Committee, he insisted that the state cut the salaries of administrators earning more than $ 100,000 and not “reduce funding for any direct educational services or resources that affect kindergarten education.” to 12th graders. ” .
However, he acknowledged that the policy was deliberately punitive for constituencies that refused to obey the governor. “It is designed to reward 55 school districts, the vast majority of which have adhered to our state legislation and respected parental rights over the past year,” he said.
Initially, DeSantis, a harsh critic of the mask and vaccine mandates, spoke out against the proposal. “I don’t think we should do that,” he told reporters in Jacksonville on Friday, telling reporters he preferred to allow parents to sue school districts separately if they feel their children have been “forced to disguise.” .
By Tuesday, however, the governor had backed down, supporting Faine’s initiative and the parents’ right to sue. “They must be compensated for the academic, social and emotional problems caused by this policy,” he said. on twitter.
After passing the Florida House, the $ 105 billion budget, which includes the redistribution of funds for education, must be approved by the state senate, which also has a majority of Republicans.
If DeSantis eventually signs it into law, he is likely to face legal challenges. The Hozy Group notes that all Florida counties with mandates renounced them as soon as the original order became law in November, following lengthy legal appeals to counties insisting on recommendations from the Biden administration and federal disease control centers. and prevention (CDC).
In addition, they say the fines are aimed at the salaries of school district administrators who only followed the mask policy, not the school board members who imposed it.
John J. Sullivan, Broad County Public School’s Director of Legislation, told the Guardian in a statement that the content of the funds would directly affect students.
“We are disappointed with the governor’s turn. We hope that the Senate will not agree to punish the administrators who worked tirelessly to solve the unprecedented problems caused by the pandemic, always focused on the health and safety of students and teachers, “he said.
“This fine will negatively affect the services that the district can provide to our students.”
Administrators in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties made similar statements, and teachers’ unions condemned the plan.
“We have 165 vacancies, and it has a lot to do with the salaries we can offer teachers. So that money would mean a lot to our school district and it’s a shame someone did that. It’s completely punitive and politically motivated, “said Wendy Dramal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association.