Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a letter (pdf) to DeSantis that the Biden administration will ensure that any school district that has its state funding reduced as punishment by the Republican governor can draw on $7 billion from the pandemic relief measure approved by Congress in 2021.
“I am deeply concerned about Florida’s July 30 Executive Order prohibiting school districts from adopting universal masking policies consistent with CDC guidance,” Cardona wrote. “The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.”
In an executive order issued on July 30, DeSantis prohibited Florida school districts from imposing blanket mask mandates on students. The state’s health and education departments subsequently issued rules to enforce the order, including a clause that requires school districts that impose mask mandates to allow parents to opt their children out of the rule.
Three counties are currently in open defiance to the governor’s order: Alachua, Leon, and Broward. Two of the counties, Alachua and Leon, have been put on notice by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who sent a letter warning officials that he’s investigating whether they’re in violation of Florida law. The mandates in Alachua and Leon require parents to obtain a health professional’s signature to opt children out of the mask mandates, a provision DeSantis’s office views as in violation of the spirit of the executive order.
The DeSantis administration has threatened to withhold state funding from the counties in the amount of the salaries of the commissioners and superintendents who backed the mandates.
“The state does not, and has never, managed the payroll for local officials. These superintendents and school board members aren’t state employees,” Christina Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary, told The Epoch Times. “Therefore, the only way the state could ever tailor the financial penalties to hold accountable the few officials who made the decision to break the law, would be to withhold state funding in the exact amount of those officials’ salaries.”
The move by Cardona isn’t the first time the Biden administration has inserted itself into Florida’s affairs. President Joe Biden and officials in his administration have repeatedly singled out Florida recently, noting that COVID-19 cases there account for a significant portion of the new cases across the country.
“Just two states, Florida and Texas, account for one-third of all new COVID-19 cases in the entire country. Just two states,” Biden said on Aug. 3.
“Look, we need leadership from everyone. And if some governors aren’t willing to do the right thing to beat this pandemic, then they should allow businesses and universities who want to do the right thing to be able to do it. I say to these governors, ‘Please, help.’ But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing.”
DeSantis responded at a briefing in Florida, noting that while campaigning, Biden vowed to “shut down the virus.”
“And what has he done?” DeSantis said on Aug. 4. “He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide-open southern border. You have hundreds of thousands of people pouring across every month.”
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.