Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she’s working with the White House to thwart Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s threat to defund schools that require masks.
In the wake of what Fried called “the absence of leadership from this Governor” the Democrat and 2022 gubernatorial candidate has been holding daily COVID-19 briefings.
Speaking to reporters at Thursday’s briefing, Fried had a message for Florida’s mask-friendly school districts: “We’ve got your back.”
Fried said her office is in active discussions with the White House COVID-19 Task Force and school district leaders to either challenge or sidestep DeSantis’ recent executive order that prohibits schools from requiring masks and threatens to defund school districts that defy his order.
“We’re going to be working with the White House as far as if there’s other additional resources that can come down from the federal government to support them,” Fried said.
Fried said she thinks there are constitutional issues with DeSantis’ order and if a constitutional challenge doesn’t work or doesn’t work fast enough, the federal government could pick up the tab for penalized school districts.
“If this Governor does what he’s threatening to do, and pulls back money from them if they make the right decision for their communities, first of all, I don’t know if that’s even constitutional. And, second of all, (we are) working with the White House to see if there might be additional resources from Washington, D.C.,” Fried said.
Most federal funding has to be appropriated by the Legislature and the Governor, but Fried said she’s talking to the White House about other avenues of funding that don’t require that approval.
“Well, if it comes from the federal government there might be ways around that, that it can go directly (to school districts),” Fried said, adding, “We’re looking into it.”
The move could affect at least eight school districts in Florida that, as of this publication, are either requiring masks or considering mask requirements. Most of those school districts are in Florida’s largest metropolitan areas.
Fried also said her office is talking to the White House about other potential COVID-19 resources to battle Florida’s latest surge. For the last four days in a row Florida has broken its record for the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic started, and COVID-19 infections in Florida account for one-quarter of the nations COVID-19 cases.
“I’m not too proud to admit what the Governor won’t. We need help here in the state of Florida,” Fried said.
Fried’s willingness to lean on the White House for resources for Florida’s COVID-19 surge is in stark contrast to DeSantis, who on Wednesday said he didn’t “want to hear a blip about COVID” from President Joe Biden.