Florida GOP could strip $200M from a dozen school districts over mask mandates: report

Florida GOP could strip $200M from a dozen school districts over mask mandates: report
Ron DeSantis speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Gage Skidmore

It appears Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is flip-flopping on his initial opposition to a GOP plan that would redirect funds from school districts that enforced mask mandates during last year's COVID-19 surge.

According to FOX 13 News, the initiative labeled the "Putting Parents First Adjustment" is reportedly included in Florida's $105 billion budget scheduled to pass on Wednesday, February 23. It aimed to reduce the amount of funding to be distributed to the following counties: "Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties."

Those districts pushed back against DeSantis' executive order barring school districts from requiring masks. While Democratic lawmakers have criticized the initiative, Republicans like House PreK-12 Appropriations Committee Chairman Randy Fine are defending the plan.

"What it does is, it rewards 55 school districts that followed the law, and holds the other 12 school districts accountable," Fine said. "What I would note, though, is that every school district in the state of Florida will be receiving an increase in funds under this budget. Those 12 school districts, the most you could say is their budget would not be increasing as much," Fine said.

DeSantis originally criticized the plan to reporters saying "instead that parents whose children were required to wear masks should be able to sue school districts," FOX 13 News reported.

However, on Tuesday, the Republican governor appeared to express support for the proposed bill. In a tweeted statement, DeSantis wrote:

Thanks to Speaker (Chris) Sprowls, Representative Fine, and the House of Representatives for heeding my call to protect students and teachers from accountability measures affecting union-controlled politicians and bureaucrats who defied Florida law by force masking kids. Most students didn’t want to wear masks in the first place! Let’s also give parents recourse for harms imposed on their kids due to this defiance. They should get compensated for academic, social, and emotional problems caused by these policies."

Fine noted that DeSantis' support came shortly after a detailed discussion about the initiative.

"What [DeSantis] has asked is something that we agree with. It is the notion of ensuring that we make sure our proviso, which it already does, say that these reductions in growth must come entirely from [school districts’] central offices," Fine said.

Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby, Fla.) claimed the move is about "[holding] accountable organizations who do not follow state law."

"And so, if it is targeted, and I have not really looked at this that closely, but if any organization in this state is not following state law, whether it’s a school board or a county or any other municipality, then I think there should be consequences. Now what those consequences are are debatable, and I have not really dug into that issue at all in the Senate yet," Simpson said.

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