Budget conference: House scales back plan to punish mask-mandate school districts
Image via AP.

Gov. DeSantis had reversed course and endorsed the plan, but there's a change anyway.

House budget negotiators have scrapped their original plan for holding school districts accountable for flouting state law regarding mask mandates.

In an offer submitted Tuesday afternoon, House negotiators under Panama City Rep. Jay Trumbull outlined $200 million for the Florida School Recognition Program, which this year will be available only to the 55 districts that followed orders from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and state law banning mask mandates.

That’s a change from the original “Putting Parents First Adjustment” presented by Brevard Republican Rep. Randy Fine, the House’s top pre-K-12 budget negotiator. The Putting Parents First Adjustment would have redirected the funds for high-paid administrators from the 12 offending districts to benefit the remaining 55 districts. Administrators making more than $100,000 annually would have been subject to the reductions.

With the changes outlined, the 12 districts would no longer see a budget offset, but they would lose out on funding that benefits sustained or improving student performance. In essence, the districts aren’t losing out on an estimated $200 million total, but instead lose their cut of a $200 million pot.

“Those school districts will not participate in a program they traditionally have,” Fine wrote in a text.

Trumbull said the exclusion from this year’s Florida School Recognition Program is not a deduction because the state didn’t offer the recognition fund last year.

“We’re telling school districts that they didn’t listen to their kids or to the parents,” Trumbull told reporters. “We have a bill that was passed by both chambers on the Parents’ Bill of Rights that gave parents guidelines and should have given the school districts guidelines to be able to not force a child to wear a mask, especially after the Governor came out and imposed his emergency order.”

As outlined in the new House language, the Florida School Recognition Program recognizes “the efforts of outstanding faculty and staff from these school districts who have overcome pandemic-related learning disruptions to maintain highly productive schools.”

Last month, DeSantis asked the House to take a different approach, arguing the plan could penalize teachers and students. However, the Republican Governor endorsed the House plan the next week.

Ahead of the 2021-22 school year, DeSantis, the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Health began pushing rules to prevent public schools from mandating that students wear masks. The Legislature convened in the fall, at the Governor’s behest, to pass a measure codifying those rules and others into law.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, did not fully endorse the House plan last month but supported some sort of accountability measure.

The Senate has not yet accepted the House’s latest offer, but top Senate budget negotiator and Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel appeared to support the Florida School Recognition Program angle in comments to reporters.

“This was, I think, a better approach. It was a cleaner approach,” Stargel said. “School recognition is what we did to reward schools for what they’ve done and the way that they’ve handled. These districts were not following the law, so they’re not going to be eligible for those dollars.”

While Fine had attempted to frame the Putting Parents First Adjustment as an accountability measure, Democrats criticized it as a punishment for school districts and students.

“The folks that had punitive actions taken against them over the last 12 months were the students that were in the school districts,” Fine responded to Democrats last month.

Lawmakers have until the end of Tuesday to finalize the budget in order to pass it by the scheduled end of Session. Stargel and Trumbull say their teams are doing what they can to finish on time.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


  • Art

    March 9, 2022 at 11:47 am

    I’m gonna get a mask that says “does this offend you?” With a sick anti vaxxor under it

  • The Inmates are Running the Aslym

    March 12, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    The net affect is the same. Trying to now to stripe it as “merit” money is a crock, just because it the school districts would not knowtoe to some partisan political red-meat rule?

    Where are the adults in this case? Not in Tallahassee.

    Kids schooling should not be missing out in education from this because these repungnant politicians want to “take their ball home” when it’s our ball (the taxpayer).

    Put it to the general public in a vote and we’ll see how this goes first.

  • Peggy Susan

    March 21, 2022 at 1:49 am

    Inmates running: well said! Thank you! Likely mask mandates were imposed contrary to Dictator Desantis (who clearly does not understand science-based research practices/results) because community spread was ultra-high in those certain districts (wasn’t FL #1 or 2 in the nation per capita + for entirely too long??). And perhaps those district leaders put kids/teachers before politics and DID NOT wish to put children’s and their teachers’ lives at risk (+ kids go home to *someone*…they do not live in a vacuum!)…AND SCIENCE (much to Desantis’ chagrin, I am sure, and quite contrary to his public lies) BACKS THE EFFICACY OF WEARING MASKS TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF COVID. Lest we forget we were/are still in this mess because a twice-impeached FL resident/former dictator-in-the-making and his hold over the GOP. (Anecdotally, it’s difficult to forget the many—now dead from COVID—talk-radio hosts who downplayed vaccines until on their death-beds…from where they admit they were wrong and begged ALL to get vaccine). From day ONE, the GOP and those who spoke for them did/do all they can/could to spread mis- and dis-information about mask efficacy and the safety of vaccines—does this not cross the mind of Americans? Why would one party work so hard to ensure COVID spread like wildfire across the US? It seems FL GOP legislators/gov didn’t/doesn’t *truly* “care about children/Floridians”…they merely pretend to care when it’s politically convenient…they sure didn’t care when counties hit student/teacher COVID + numbers that surpassed all COVID + numbers from previous year (with masks in place) within the first six weeks of this school year (without mask mandates). Perhaps prior to making a mockery (again) of the FL lawmaking process (clearly attempting to rival the Middle East)…look at the stats—masks do work, what you’ve done to LGTBQ kids will certainly force harm upon many more kids stuck in psychological limbo (science backs this up as well!). You say you care about children…we scoff: there’s an affordable housing crisis in FL, almost 23% of FL kids are food-insecure, and the list goes on, yet you chose to focus solely on policies that’ll hurt even more kids over policies to help them.
    Great job, Desantis et. al.—once again, the country is shocked at your ability to roll-back 60-years of human rights gains and just like MAGA the child, you’re holding strong with a policy of “you agree with me wholeheartedly or you’ll pay the price” practice not seen in a leadership position in this country until Trump the t’ween occupied the WH and treated the position as solely a way to “get back at” those who disagreed with him.
    Bottom line…we must remain very scared of the Trump-Desantis “revenge focused” form of leadership…our founders’ expectation that one branch checks another had altogether collapsed with Trump in office – (read any article written by anyone of respect/published in peer-reviewed journals/ beyond authors propped and promulgated by the fox entertainment network and you’ll learn all true experts call our democracy in “great/grave peril.”

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