Despite the federal government questioning whether Florida’s teacher bonus plan conflicts with federal guidelines, Gov. Ron DeSantis still expects the state to distribute $1,000 bonuses to teachers when the school year begins in August.
DeSantis has frequently touted that plan, which uses $216 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to issue thank yous to teachers and principals for working throughout the pandemic. Two weeks ago, however, the U.S. Department of Education sent the state a letter saying that while there is a path to provide premium pay for educators, the way Florida approved the bonuses doesn’t appear to align with federal guidelines.
In the letter addressed to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a deputy assistant secretary at the federal agency said enhanced pay needs to be “reasonable and necessary.” He added that funds are to be used to address learning loss during the pandemic through programs that respond to students’ academic, social and emotional needs.
When asked about the federal government’s concerns during a press conference at an Orlando charter school, DeSantis appeared unaware of the reports about the bonuses.
“Is that true? I don’t think there was any issue with that,” DeSantis said, turning to Florida Department of Education Senior Chancellor Eric Hall.
Hall told him, “I think we got everything.”
“Yeah, I think we’re good to go,” DeSantis continued.
Bonus checks should hit teachers’ paychecks in August, he added.
The federal official who sent the letter to Corcoran, Deputy Assistant Secretary Ian Rosenblum, ended his letter by saying he’ll work with the state to make sure relief money is spent as intended.
For DeSantis, the remaining question is whether the federal government will tax the teacher bonuses. He told reporters he believes they might.
“Obviously we don’t believe it should be taxable, but that’s not our ability to be able to write those tax implications from it,” he said.
It wouldn’t be the first time the federal guidelines around the American Rescue Plan dollars threw a wrench in DeSantis’ aspirations. Last month, he vetoed his own proposal to create a $1 billion emergency fund after updated guidance said the relief funds couldn’t be used for that purpose.
DeSantis made the teacher bonuses one of his highest budget priorities and toured schools to tout them while posing with teachers holding an enormous mock check. DeSantis has also boasted about his decision to require in-person instruction at public schools at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year and has often said states that shut schools down were making a mistake that will have negative effects for years.
The Florida Department of Education is reviewing the letter, spokesperson Jason Mahon said earlier this month.
“It is surprising that the U.S. Department of Education would suggest that a $1,000 disaster relief payment is not ‘reasonable or necessary’ given the dedication teachers in Florida have shown to keep schools open, allow in-person learning and recover lost learning the entire school year,” Mahon said in an email Tuesday. “Regardless, we still plan to provide these payments to Florida’s teachers. Governor DeSantis committed to $1,000 bonuses for teachers, and he will follow through on this commitment.”