TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The U.S. Department of Education reached out to Florida officials Monday to ask why they alone have not filed paperwork that would allow the state access to $2.3 billion in federal school aid.
What You Need To Know
- The federal government allocated $7 billion in federal school pandemic aid to Florida
- Two thirds of that amount was released to the state in March
- The last third of the funding — $2.3 billion — won't be released until the state has submitted a spending plan, which federal officials say it has repeatedly failed to do
- Federal officials also expressed concern that while Florida has received $177 million of the federal school funds, educators and school districts say they have not seen any of it
In the letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, DOE official Ian Rosenblum pointed out that as part of the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, all state officials would have to do is submit a spending plan to get the money.
To date, the U.S. DOE has received "an ARP ESSER State plan from 51 of 52 state educational agencies (SEA's), with the exception of the Florida Department of Education," the letter said.
The $2.3 billion in school funding in question is part of a much larger $7 billion allocation given to Florida "to support your students' health and safety and address their social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Rosenblum wrote.
Florida was given access to two-thirds of the funds in March, with the final third contingent on state officials submitting a spending plan for the money.
Rosenblum called the required spending plan "a vital public document that demonstrates how a state met critical requirements for stakeholder engagement and public transparency."
The state plan was due in June, but the letter said Florida officials have already received at least two extensions.
"FDOE did not meet this deadline (June), nor did it meet the July and August submission timelines that were anticipated following conversations with your staff," Rosenblum wrote.
The letter also points out that Florida has already taken $177 million in ARP ESSER funds to date — funds that have not been distributed.
"Yet we have heard repeatedly from parents, teachers, and superintendents from school districts in Florida that FDOE has not yet awarded ARP ESSER funds to local educational agencies ... FDOE's delay raises significant concerns because of the unnecessary uncertainty it is creating for school districts across the state and because it is hindering their ability to confidently plan for how to use these funds to address the needs of student," Rosenblum wrote, adding that his agency stands ready to assist Florida officials if they need help filing the proper paperwork.
Corcoran and the Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to Rosenblum's letter.
New on education: Florida is the only state yet to submit a plan to @usedgov on how it will spend COVID relief funds for schools.— Austin Landis (@_AustinLandis) October 4, 2021
Today, the dept. wrote to FDOE Commissioner Corcoran to ask why: "FDOE's failure to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential... pic.twitter.com/YtTHGlx1e1
Florida's decision to forego $2.3B in school funds irks critics
The U.S. Department of Education this week singled out Florida as the only state that has failed to submit a plan for spending the final third of the American Rescue Plan dollars provided each state to help schools recover from the pandemic. Without a plan, the department has informed FDOE, the $2.3 billion will be withheld by Washington.
In a statement to news organizations, the governor's office said "no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources," referring to state and local education funding mechanisms.
But many districts have made clear they're facing pandemic-related fiscal challenges related to everything from installing new air filtration systems to offering hiring and retention bonuses amid an exodus of staff.
"To say that those resources are unneeded and would go to waste is absolutely untrue," Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in an interview Tuesday, arguing that DeSantis, a Republican, was playing politics with the funds.
"It's a power play. The federal government wants the money to go to local school districts, but the state's going to jump in, grab the money and say 'no, no, no, the federal government's not in control, President Biden's not in control, we're in control, and you're going to have to say 'mother, may I,'" said Hanna.
Far from preventing just the $2.3 billion from making its way to schools, Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar on Tuesday argued the DeSantis administration of barring districts from accessing more than three times as much pandemic-related federal education funding passed under President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
"In total, the governor is actually blocking over $8 billion," Spar said. "When we're talking about literally 5,000 teacher vacancies at the start of this school year, over 4,000 support staff vacancies, our bus drivers, our cafeteria workers, our custodians, our paraprofessionals and others, it just seems to make sense that these dollars should get down to school districts."
In its statement, the governor's office said of its contention that districts had not proven a need for the federal funds, "whenever this may change in the future, the state of Florida will coordinate with USDOE to ensure Florida students and educators have all the resources they need."