Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration took some heat for being the last state to claim its share of federal COVID-19 relief funds last fall, but now the last installment of the $7 billion in federal aid is on its way.
Late last month, the U.S. Department of Education accepted the state’s plan to spend the money for helping students and schools recover from the effects of the pandemic, using cash coming through the American Rescue Plan. But it didn’t happen without some finger-wagging about Florida’s stance blocking school districts from requiring students to wear masks at school.
“Approval of Florida’s State plan in no way reflects a determination that the State law permitting parent opt out, or any other information included in the State plan, complies with Federal civil rights requirements or any other applicable laws,” reads the letter from U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to Richard Corcoran, Florida’s Education Commissioner.
DeSantis’ stance that parents should be able to determine whether their children must be masked had been the subject of lots of back-and-forth drama between state officials and federal officials.
Still, in the official news release that came out last week, Cardona said he was “excited” to announce the approval of Florida’s plan.
“The state plans that have been submitted to the department lay the groundwork for the ways in which an unprecedented infusion of federal resources will be used to address the urgent needs of America’s children and build back better,” Cardona said, according to the news release.
Among the priorities listed in Florida’s 432-page report for its plans for COVID-19 recovery: tutoring primary grade students to address gaps in reading skill, expanded summer learning and after-school programs, SAT/ACT test-taking at no cost to high school juniors again in 2022, professional development for reading coaches, and more support for students who are simultaneously enrolled in high school and college for computer science/IT fields.
The state received a total of $7 billion out of $81 billion the federal government distributed to 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
“We look forward to doing all we can to ensure Florida students get the best education in the country,” said Jared Ochs, state Department of Education spokesman.