On Aug. 17, Ducey announced an investment of $10 million for an immediate relief program for K–12 students and families.
“The funding will provide choice for parents who are facing financial and educational barriers due to unnecessary closures and school mandates that are not in compliance” with state law, the Republican governor said in a statement.
“We are committed to keeping all Arizona kids on track, closing the achievement gap, and equipping underserved students and families with the tools they need to thrive,” Ducey stated.
Ducey said the COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program will provide up to $7,000 per student for child care, transportation, online tutoring, and tuition needs.
According to the program, eligible families must show a household income that is at or below 350 percent of the federal poverty level.
Parents must also show that their school is “isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical COVID-19 constraints.” This includes mandating masks or providing “preferential treatment” to vaccinated students in violation of state law, Ducey said.
On Aug. 14, Ducey announced that Arizona school districts that defy the statewide mask mandate ban wouldn’t be eligible for federal virus relief funds through a $163 million program he created. The program promises an additional $1,800 per student.
“Parents are in the driver’s seat, and it’s their right to make decisions that best fit the needs of their children. Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged—mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t,” the governor said in a statement at the time. “These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona’s students.”
Arizona Democrats reacted angrily to the governor’s announcement, with U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton writing on Twitter: “The Governor’s gambit to deny American Rescue Plan funds to schools following CDC guidance not only puts students at risk—it violates the law as written by Congress.”
In an Aug. 17 letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Stanton chastised Ducey over his “deeply irresponsible plan” to withhold federal dollars from Arizona schools not following state guidelines.
Stanton said the plan “appears to violate the plain language of the law as written by Congress as well as the guidance issued by the Treasury Department. These funds are not intended to be used for policies that undercut scientific research to pursue purely partisan ideological priorities.”
“Gov. Ducey has mismanaged the pandemic in Arizona from the beginning—and children have paid the price. As of the end of last month, Arizona suffered the second most child deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States. In July, the number of children hospitalized for COVID in my state doubled.”
On Aug. 18, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona responded to Ducey with a letter (pdf) that said Arizona’s anti-mask mandate rule “appears to restrict the development of local health and safety policies and is at odds with the school district planning process embodied in [the department’s] interim final requirements.”
Cardona went on to say that Arizona’s actions to “block school district’s from adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19” puts federal health and safety goals “at risk,” and may infringe upon school districts that seek to implement federal health and safety rules.
On Aug. 17, U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) denounced Ducey on Twitter, calling his plan to withhold funds “the most absurdly dangerous and anti-science step [he] has taken.”
“Until kids under 12 have access to the vaccine, what are parents supposed to do? Just hope their kids don’t get sick and end up in the ICU?” she wrote.
Other states that prohibit mask mandates in favor of parental choice include Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Iowa.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there have been more than 970,000 cases of COVID-19 and 18,467 deaths in the state since the pandemic began in early 2020. Nearly 55 percent of Arizona residents have been fully vaccinated.