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States With School Mask Mandate Bans Likely Won’t Lose Federal Funding, Education Secretary Suggests—But Will Face Investigations

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 22, 2021

Topline

The Biden administration is expected to go after states that prohibit school districts from imposing mask mandates, but Education Secretary Miguel Cardona suggested Sunday revoking their federal funding would be counterproductive, as the federal government ramps up its battle against school mask mandate bans after Florida punished two districts that violated its order.

Key Facts

The Department of Education is “prepared to launch investigations” into any claims that state mask mandate bans have discriminated against students or blocked their access to education, Cardona said on Meet the Press Sunday, after President Joe Biden and Cardona announced Wednesday the Department of Education will use its civil rights arm to go after state mask mandate bans.

When asked by host Chuck Todd if the “end game” of the federal government’s actions is a denial of federal funds, Cardona said when it comes to withholding funds, “those who suffer are the students.”

Pulling school funding “doesn’t usually work,” Cardona said, and “if anything it adds insult to injury to these students who are trying to get into the classroom.”

The Department of Education’s civil rights office can issue a “range of sanctions” for any violations with the revocation of federal funding being the most severe, the Associated Press notes, and the agency could also refer the issue to the Department of Justice for further legal action.

Governors and state lawmakers in at least eight states—Florida, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah—have imposed bans on school districts from enacting mask mandates (Arkansas’ ban has been overturned in court), and the Biden administration has sent letters to each of those states warning of potential consequences.

States may specifically be in violation of a stipulation in the American Rescue Plan Act that gives states federal funding “to adopt a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction,” Cardona said in a blog post earlier this week, if they block districts from “voluntarily adopting science-based strategies” that prevent Covid-19 transmission.

Crucial Quote

“Let’s get politics out of the way, let the educational leaders and health experts make the decisions around how to keep students and staff safe,” Cardona said.

Tangent

After the Florida Board of Education officially moved Friday to deduct the cost of school board members’ salaries from the state’s funding for two districts with mask mandates, Cardona reiterated Sunday those schools and any others will be able to replace their lost funding with federal funds that were already allocated for those districts. Cardona said he told superintendents in those districts the White House “[has] their back” and noted the state cannot block the districts’ access to those federal dollars.

Key Background

School mask mandate bans have become an increasing matter of controversy as the delta variant surge has coincided with the start of the new school year. While school districts in a majority of the states banning mask mandates have now gone against the state-level bans, the battle over school funding has most prominently played out in Florida, as six districts have now voted to impose mask mandates that the state says violates their policy. In addition to the two districts that Florida has already levied punishments against, the state has vowed to also go after the others that have followed in their footsteps. “No one is above the law, not even school board members, and those found to be in violation of state law will face consequences,” Christina Pushaw, spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, told Forbes in an email Thursday. Beyond Florida, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has said he will withhold federal funding from schools that have mask mandates—even before Arizona’s ban on them officially goes into effect on September 29—and South Carolina schools could also face funding cuts for imposing mandates.

Further Reading

Meeting the President’s Call to Support the Safe and Sustained Reopening of Schools (U.S. Department of Education)

States banning mask mandates could face civil rights probes (Associated Press)

Tennessee Becomes Latest State To Ban School Mask Mandates — Here’s The Full List (Forbes)

Florida Sanctioned Schools For Imposing Mask Mandates — Schools In These States Could Be Punished Next (Forbes)

Florida To Yank Funding For 2 School Districts That Imposed Mask Mandates—Unless They’re Lifted Within 48 Hours (Forbes)

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