Gov. Ron DeSantis may not want to pay school board members backing mask mandates. But Senate Democrats intend to make sure those officials receive a paycheck.
Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book and caucus leadership announced they will launch a GoFundMe raising private donations to support education leaders if the Governor follows through on his threat.
“If the Governor chooses to defund public education and withhold salaries from educators as punishment for protecting students’ health and safety, we will fill the gap to support them in this fight,” said Book, a Plantation Democrat.
The gesture follows DeSantis’ headline-making threat to withhold pay from school board members and superintendents. That would be a follow-through on an executive order DeSantis issued last month forbidding districts from imposing mask mandates, noting in the order that the state holds the purse strings on schools.
DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw on Monday said the Board of Education would tailor financial consequences for districts that run astray.
“The State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law,” she said.
At least 10 school districts have imposed mask requirements, but most have an opt-out clause that seemingly protects them from consequences from a rule issued by Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees. But not all have taken that step. Alachua and Broward counties have straight-up mandates in place, at least for the start of the year. Leon County has the requirement in place for K-8 students.
Democrats, though, suggested there’s nothing DeSantis can take away that his critics nationwide cannot replenish. The Senate caucus sent a letter to all 67 school districts’ superintendents and board members promising they had their backs regardless of any action taken by the Governor.
“We understand that public schools, school districts and school boards are facing unprecedented pressure to bow to the wishes of a Governor and administration adamantly opposed to any measure that might be perceived as counter to future political ambitions,” the letter reads. “But we believe in and support local rule — and we know your commitment to our children is your highest priority. Their future must always come first.”
Senators pointed to wide scientific agreement that masks reduce the transmission of COVID-19. The caucus leaders also noted a sharp increase in hospitalizations among children age 12 and younger who have COVID-19. Those under the age of 12 still can not receive one of three vaccines available in the U.S. to adults.
“Masks work, and locally elected leaders have a right to apply CDC guidance to keep kids safe at school,” said Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat and the caucus’ fiscal policy chair. “We stand with school leaders across the state who refuse to let our children become political pawns in the Governor’s partisan game.”
Sens. Lori Berman, Jason Pizzo and Bobby Powell also signed the letter.