After learning about additional untapped federal COVID-19 relief for children, Broward County lawmakers on Wednesday agreed to write the Governor about speeding up the state’s role funneling money from the feds to the state’s educators.
News broke Tuesday that Florida is the last state to draw down school funding from the American Rescue Plan, of which $2.3 billion is earmarked for Florida’s public schools, with $630 million designated for Broward County. And Wednesday, Renee Jaffe of the Early Learning Coalition of Broward County told the delegation the state has been designated to receive $2 billion in federal funds for early childhood education that has remained mostly untapped.
“Close to $2 billion has not been rolled out and is desperately needed,” Jaffe said.
Rep. Christine Hunschofsky said a letter to the administration is in order.
“This is the second time today we heard about slow funding from the state,” Hunschofsky said.
Support for early childhood learning is particularly important for recovering from COVID-19, Hunschofsky said.
“If we’re not funding these quality child care centers, then there’s no place for people to leave their children,” Hunschofsky said. “If we want to empower people and give them access to opportunity, we have to give them access to child care.”
The delegation got an earful from Broward School Board members frustrated over the untapped $630 million the federal government has designated for the district.
“What is the hold up?” asked Laurie Rich-Levinson, a Broward School Board member. “Why isn’t the money being released?”
Rep. Robin Bartleman of Weston said she met with administration officials and was told it was the school districts that haven’t spent their money.
“It’s frustrating. Everyone is pointing fingers,” Bartleman said. “School districts have submitted their plan about how they are spending every penny.”
A state Department of Education spokesman said the DOE is approaching the plan requirements with all due diligence.
“Florida needed additional time due to the state’s statutory budget requirements, to compile and analyze the end-of-year student achievement data needed to inform our plan …” Spokesman Jared Ochs said in a statement.
The district received high praise from the delegation for its strong stand on mandating students wear masks unless they have a doctor’s note. The policy, in defiance of DeSantis’ order, has put the district in the administration’s crosshairs. State aid in an amount equal to School Board members’ salaries is currently being withheld. And the Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has threatened to withhold an additional $421,000, the amount equal to a federal grant that went directly to the district, for its refusal to obey DeSantis’ order.
Sen. Gary Farmer called the threat “an embarrassment.”
“It’s putting politics before the safety of students, the safety of our teachers and our support staff,” Farmer said. “… You’re doing what you’re supposed to do. And you are getting tremendous pressure.”