School Funding

Ducey Defends Use of Arizona School Funding Amid Fed Threat to Claw It Back

Camille Pedrosa

Cronkite News

Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday that the state’s use of the money to support schools that reject mask mandates is “well in line” with federal guidelines for the funds, despite a threat from the Treasury to resume the silver.

At stake is about $173 million in federal funding the state has already received as part of the Federal Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Stimulus Fund — and the possibility of a delay in the future. pandemic relief funding if the state does not comply with federal rules.

In one letter to Ducey
Last Friday, the Treasury Department said the money was meant to be used to offset pandemic damage and reduce the risk of virus transmission, but Arizona programs “undermine efforts to stop the spread of the virus. COVID-19”.

The Treasury gave Arizona 60 days to update the programs to be compliant. Otherwise, he said he could try to claw back current funds and suspend the second phase of stimulus fund payments, under which Arizona should eventually get a total of $4.2 billion.

But in a statement Thursday, Ducey’s office accused federal officials of “arbitrarily and retroactively” changing the rules for using the recovery funds.

“Federal legislation governing state funding for economic recovery gives states broad latitude in determining how best to use those funds. Arizona is well inside these guidelines, Ducey’s spokesman, CJ Karamargin, said in an email Thursday.

He called it a “classic case of federal government overreach and Governor Ducey’s position is clear.” These funds are being used properly and they are essential in getting children back to where everyone wants them to be: in the classroom.

Critics said the state’s policy not only threatened the health of school children and teachers, but the governor’s refusal to back down was “playing a game of chicken” with much-needed school funds.

The programs in question are the Education Plus-Up grant program and the COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program.

Ducey allocated $163 million to the Plus-Up Program, which directs grant money to schools that do not have a mask mandate. the recovery benefit
The program has set aside $10 million to help families who want to remove their children from schools where mask-wearing is mandatory, providing vouchers of up to $7,000 per student.

The programs were quickly attacked by education advocates.

“Governor Ducey’s misuse of federal COVID relief funds has prompted schools to implement less stringent mitigation policies, putting teachers and students at risk,” said Morgan Dick, head of the public information for the Arizona Department of Education, in an emailed statement.

The federal government seems to agree. In a letter
in Ducey in October, the Treasury said the two programs appeared to “undermine evidence-based efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” and that gave it 30 days to fix the issue.

The state’s response in November offered no changes to the programs. This triggered the Treasury’s letter last week, which said the programs ‘as currently structured are ineligible uses of SLFRF funds’.

Karmargin said changing curricula to accommodate the federal government will “harm students who desperately need to make up for” school time lost due to the pandemic.

But educators said the governor must back down.

“The governor should be focused on using available funds to help our schools stay open and functioning for the students and families who depend on them — not playing a game of chicken that jeopardizes the funding we need. our state so desperately needs,” Dick’s email said.

Beth Lewis, a teacher, parent and director of Save Our Schools Arizona, a nonpartisan education advocacy group, said stopping such programs was “essential”.

“He (Ducey) has allocated $10 million for the voucher program and so far I think less than 3 or 4 percent of that has been used,” Lewis said.

Lewis said she believes the rest of the funding should be used, but for the intended purpose – keeping children safe in schools.

“No one chooses to use a voucher, everyone just wants their public schools funded,” she said. “We don’t amplify his talking points because they’re not rooted in reality.”

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