Florida Looks to Reward Schools that Did Not Flout State Law with Mask Mandates

Mask Mandate Weingarten - In this Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, file photo, students sit in an Algebra class at Barbara Coleman Senior High School on the first day of school, in Miami Lakes, Fla. Florida school districts can legally require their students to wear masks to prevent the spread of …
AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File

Florida lawmakers are including some rewards and punishments in state budget negotiations, with both the House and Senate working on a plan to hold school districts accountable for flouting state law that banned mask mandates.

Senate budget negotiator Republican Senator Kelli Stargel and House negotiator Republican Jay Trumbull had agreed to restore the $200 million into the Florida School Recognition Program for the new budget but would restrict financial benefits to the 55 school districts that followed the law by dropping mask requirements.

Florida Politics reported on the plan:

The plan began as the “Putting Parents First Adjustment,” presented by the House’s top pre-K-12 budget negotiator, Brevard Republican Rep. Randy Fine. The Putting Parents First Adjustment would have redirected the funds for high-paid administrators from the 12 offending districts to benefit the remaining 55 districts. Administrators making more than $100,000 annually would have been subject to the reductions.

With the changes outlined, the 12 districts would no longer see a budget offset, but they would lose out on funding that benefits sustained or improving student performance. In essence, the districts aren’t losing out on an estimated $200 million total, but instead lose their cut of a $200 million pot.

Schools would still need to sustain high performance, with a school grade of “A,” or improve at least one letter grade compared to the 2018-19 school year.

“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,” Trumbull told reporters. “Should you have broken the law, you don’t receive those resources. That’s as clear as it gets.”

The Florida School Recognition Program provides “greater autonomy and financial awards to schools that demonstrate sustained or significantly improved student performance.”

Florida Politics reported that the Senate has not yet approved the latest plan from the House but Stargel in comments to reporters expressed support.

“School recognition is what we did to reward schools for what they’ve done and the way that they’ve handled,” Stargel said. “These districts were not following the law, so they’re not going to be eligible for those dollars.”

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