Why is FL DOE behind on getting billions of federal dollars to schools recovering from COVID pandemic?

By: - July 8, 2021 6:53 pm

School entrance sign. Photo, CD Davidson-Hiers

Florida education officials are at least a month behind in getting a state plan, worth billions, to the U.S. Department of Education to help Florida schools recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Already, 40 states have submitted their plans and Florida is still not one of them.

And more federal funding for Florida is now on hold because the state has not yet sent in the state plan for approval.

The plans were intended to show how states would use billions of dollars offered by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to help school recover from COVID. They were due by June 7, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The ARP funds allocated for K-12 recovery are called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (or ESSER) funds.

In a Wednesday press release, the U.S. Department of Education said that seven plans had been approved — South Dakota, Texas, Massachusetts, Utah, Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C.

In the same press release, the U.S. Department of Education said that “Earlier this year, the department distributed two thirds of the ARP ESSER funds, totaling $81 billion, to 50 states and the District of Columbia. The remaining third of the funding to states is being made available once their plans are approved.”

For Florida, that means the department could receive about $2.3 billion if they submit the plan and it gets approved.

With Florida schools and districts still working towards recovery from COVID-19’s impact on the 2020-21 school year while also preparing for the upcoming year, these funds could provide students with more academic resources and mental health supports.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said that missing out on these funds would be an “injustice.”

“I certainly hope that the DOE intends to put in their applications to get these funds for Florida,” Spar told the Phoenix. “It really would help support the work that’s going on in our schools and moving our schools forward — and it would be an injustice if Florida passed on the billions of dollars in funding for our schools.”

A month after the due date, it is not clear why the Florida Department of Education has not yet submitted its plan to the federal government.

DOE spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said in an email to the Phoenix, back on June 17, that the department was working to finalize the plan.

But the U.S. Department of Education has confirmed to the Phoenix that Florida has not submitted anything, as of Thursday.

The USDE previously stated that these funds were intended to get schools to reopen safely for in-person learning and to address other impacts of the pandemic.

Since Florida schools have been open for in-person learning for most of the 2020-21 school year, the state can use these funds to address issues such as loss of instructional time and emotional and mental health supports from the tumultuous year.

“There’s a host of ways that these dollars can be appropriately utilized in districts, but they do us no good if they’re not there,” Spar with the FEA said.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.