The Department of Treasury told Arizona’s governor that the state cannot use federal funds to pay for programs designed to circumvent school mask requirements.
Over the summer, Gov. Doug Ducey said that he would provide more funding to schools that remain open for in-person classes and don’t require masks for children.
Arizona state programs, which use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, would “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo warned in a letter to Ducey. The Republican governor now has 30 days to explain how the state could comply or risk losing the funds.
“A program or service that imposes conditions on participation or acceptance of the service that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based solutions for stopping the spread of COVID-19 is not a permissible use of [the] funds,” Adeyemo wrote.
The Biden administration is “concerned that two recently created Arizona grant programs undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Adeyemo also wrote.
In August, Ducey started a $163 million grant program using federal funding that makes it only available to schools that don’t have mask mandates. He also established a $10 million funding program offering vouchers to families at public schools that require masks or require quarantining.
The $10 million funding, his office said, “will provide choice for parents who are facing financial and educational barriers due to unnecessary closures and school mandates and that are not in compliance with the provisions set forth in state law.”
In a statement to news outlets on Tuesday, C.J. Karamargin, a spokesperson for Ducey, explained that the grant programs are designed to aid students after school shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Following the challenges during the 2020 school year, everyone’s primary focus should be equipping families with the resources to get their kids caught up,” Karamargin said in response to Adeyemo’s letter, adding that Ducey’s administration is reviewing the letter and would soon respond. “That’s exactly what this program does—giving families in need the opportunity to access educational resources like tutoring, child care, transportation, and more.”
Arizona is one of at least eight states that have laws or executive orders that ban mask mandates in public schools. This year, a number of GOP-led states have also passed laws or used orders to bar the use of vaccine passports or vaccine mandates.
The federal Department of Education in August, meanwhile, opened civil-rights investigations into five Republican-led states that did away with mask mandates in schools, saying their actions could violate the rights of certain students.