DeSantis opens funds to ACPS, 11 other schools

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday moved to give a reprieve to 12 school districts that kept mask mandates during the 2021-2022 school year—including Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS). 

The action came in the form of a letter to newly appointed Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., which put DeSantis at odds with the Republican-controlled Legislature. 

“I direct the Department of Education to implement the Florida School Recognition Program… to reward eligible schools for their achievements, as districts’ actions have no bearing on a school’s eligibility,” DeSantis wrote to Diaz in the letter. 

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During the regular session, some Republican lawmakers worked to create a way that punished the districts that mandated masking for students—or, according to some lawmakers, reward districts that did not.

The two houses eventually nixed the first proposal and settled on cutting the 12 districts from the Florida School Recognition Program, a reward program started 20 years ago for schools that keep their “A” rating or improve their rating from the year before. 

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.
Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

“What this fund is doing is saying, hey, if you follow the law and your kids and your school is doing well, you have the ability to draw down some of these resources,” Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-District 6, said at the time. “Should you have broken the law, you don’t receive those resources. That’s as clear as it gets.”

However, the DeSantis letter said the rules for the recognition program prevent the state from cutting schools because of actions by district officials. He said districts serve as a conduit for the funds, but only schools actually use the money, and reiterated that he only supported “holding administrators accountable, as long as classrooms and schools were not impacted.”  

DeSantis directed Diaz to open up the program, and its $200 million pot of funds, to all 67 school districts. 

ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said the decision was a “pleasant surprise” for the district since the Legislature had already approved the budget. The Senate greenlighted the state’s overall budget 33-0 in March. 

“We’re certainly pleased that the situation has been resolved, and the schools can receive the funding that they’ve earned based on their student achievement,” Johnson said. 

Rep. Randy Fine, R-District 53, created the first proposal designed to reprimand school districts, called the Putting Parents First Amendment. He told Politico that the move confused him. 

“I am somewhat befuddled by the letter,” Fine said in a text message. “The language in the bill was explicit and clear.” 

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