It could be payback time for school districts that defied the governor on mask mandates.
As the state budget comes together, on the House side, there’s a provision to cut funding from the rogue school districts, which include Miami-Dade and Broward.
“It is in this budget, and what it does is it rewards 55 school districts that followed the law and holds the other 12 accountable,” said State Rep. Randy Fine, (R) Brevard County, on the House floor Tuesday.
Holding school districts accountable means cutting more than $71 million from Miami-Dade and about $31 million from Broward. The backlash to that idea has begun.
“I am here today because I am angry,” said retired public school teacher Phyllis Compton at a news conference Friday, which included a mix of different grass-roots activist groups. “$72 million, a punishment for doing the right thing.”
When this school year started, Miami-Dade and Broward were among a dozen Florida school districts that mandated masks, directly defying Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Department of Education, which had ordered public schools to make masks optional during the Delta wave of the pandemic.
“To reduce the money that we barely have to keep the programs that we offer is totally unfair,” said grandparent Eddy Barea at the news conference.
He was among the grandparents, parents, retired teachers and one high school senior who gathered outside the Miami-Dade Public Schools building to voice their opposition to what’s called the “Putting Parents First” act.
“We’re being punished for striving to keep our students and faculty safe during an unpredictable pandemic,” said high school student Olivia Martin-Johnson.
“The only people who will suffer from withholding funding and resources from our schools and our children are our children,” said Rose Mine Ladero, a mother who has kids in public schools.
Punishing the school districts that mandated masks is Fine’s idea.
“To me, it’s a very mean-spirited, divisive platform that they’re choosing to pursue,” said Karen Latham, a parent who was at the news conference.
On the House floor, Rep. Carlos Smith, (D) Orlando, questioned Fine.
“Are we not enacting punitive budget cuts against these districts for political reasons, what is the justification for this?” Smith asked.
“Every school district will be seeing an increase, what you can say is it’s not increasing as much as it otherwise would,” Fine responded.
Fine’s point was that since the House budget increases education funding statewide, even with his proposed punitive cuts, every school district would still receive more money than last year.
Considering Miami-Dade County Public Schools has a $7.3 billion annual budget, losing $71 million is a small percentage of the bottom line. The activists say any cut is a slap in the face as the school districts try to recover from the pandemic and the learning gaps it caused.