Teacher with students, in a classroom. Credit: Getty Images.
The Florida Department of Education is more than three months late in submitting a state plan to the U.S. Department of Education that would release more than $2.3 billion dollars in COVID-19 relief funds intended for Florida schools.
The omission leaves billions off the table that could be used to alleviate the pandemic’s damage to Florida’s students, teachers and staff.
During a Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Eric Hall, senior chancellor for the department, said officials are “finishing up” the application for these funds.
The Phoenix reached out to the Florida Department of Education for a timeline on when the application will be sent to the feds and is awaiting a response.
In March, the Biden administration announced that $122 billion dollars was available for schools, with two thirds of the money immediately available to states and the remaining third contingent on the U.S. Department of Education’s approval of a state plan indicating how the funds will be used.
For Florida, that meant that more than $7 billion would be allocated to Florida from the American Rescue Plan, with about $4.7 billion to the state since March and the remaining $2.3 billion contingent on the feds’ approval of Florida’s state plan.
But Florida has not summited a plan, yet. And these state plan applications were due by June 7, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
The U.S. Department of Education has received 44 plans so far — from 43 states and Washington, D.C. — and has approved 28 of them, giving these states access to the full funding.
The $4.7 billion, and additional $2.3 billion, are a part of a total of over $15 billion earmarked for Florida in COVID relief for schools.
Without the approved state plan, about $13 billion is available to Florida right now to for COVID recovery in schools. Florida has spent about $2.3 billion of that amount, according to data reported by the U.S. Department of Education as of June 30.
Chancellor Hall noted that the COVID relief funds are intended be spent over several years.
“It’s not about giving a lot of funding out and hoping that something happens,” Hall said during the board meeting.
“It’s being intentional with these investments. It’s working hand-in-hand with district leaders and our school leaders, to align these efforts … so that we’re staying focused. Closing gaps, accelerating learning, and putting students on a path to upward mobility.”
The Florida Education Association, a statewide teacher union, sent out a press release earlier this month calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to release the federal funding to school districts.
“Around the nation, school districts have used the funds to invest in air purifiers, upgrade ventilation, enhance PPE, extend and enrich learning opportunities, and in countless other ways to get students back to school safely,” press release said. “In Florida, these funds are sitting in Tallahassee’s coffers instead of being provided to school districts as intended.”
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