Earlier this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis threatened to withhold the salaries of school officials enforcing mask mandates in his state. On Tuesday, Joe Biden’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki fired back by indicating that the administration may step in to pay these officials if DeSantis docks their pay.
“I do want to call out the courage and boldness of a number of leaders in Florida,” Psaki said, according to WEAR TV. “People who are stepping up to do the right thing to protect students and keep schools safe and open.”
Psaki went on to say that CARES Act money could “certainly” be used to pay the salaries of anyone who DeSantis withholds payments from.
“The question is — ‘why not?'” Psaki said. “Those [funds] can be used to cover expenses that come up in this period of time. They’re federal funds. They’re under federal discretion, so they need to be distributed to these schools. We’re looking into what’s possible.”
She then called on DeSantis to “get out of the way” if he doesn’t want Florida to follow coronavirus guidelines.
Psaki commends the “courage” and “boldness” of officials in Florida who are speaking out against and defying Gov. DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools pic.twitter.com/KQZtKNSqwk
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) August 10, 2021
DeSantis has since fired back with a statement of his own:
It is surprising that the White House would rather spend money for the salaries of bureaucratic superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, than on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for.
Regarding funding, Florida opened schools for in-person instruction first, with more students in-person and a greater focus on closing achievement gaps in safe learning environments than any other state in the nation last year. Governor DeSantis allocated more than $1.4 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to keep schools open and make sure they could cover their expenses, and Florida school districts also received nearly $700 million from the CARES Act (ESSER I).
Some Florida school districts recently alerted us that they needed to transition to spending from CRRSA Act (ESSER II) funds. The notion that districts need to begin tapping into ARP Act (ESSER III) funds is premature by months, if not longer. Instead, Florida’s school leaders should be commended for making ESSER I funds last through the 2020-2021 school year and managing these resources wisely.
It would be irresponsible to wastefully rush to spend these dollars before they are needed, as these funds are intended to address the full needs of educational recovery over multiple fiscal years.
On Tuesday morning, DeSantis explained his threat to withhold these salaries further.
“We’re gonna do whatever we can to vindicate the rights of parents,” DeSantis said. “We should not be decried by the government. This should be something that a parent is ultimately making a decision on.”
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“There’s different parents that feel differently about it, and I respect that,” he added. “But I think to force one way is alienating and marginalizing a lot of parents throughout the state of Florida. …So we’ll do what we can to vindicate those rights.”