WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is threatening to claw back Covid-19 relief funds sent to Arizona over state provisions it says discourage families and school districts from following federal guidelines recommending to face covering in schools.
At issue, two public programs intended to help schools and students, but which divert funding from jurisdictions with requirements for masks. Arizona’s Education Plus-Up grant program provides $ 163 million in funding to schools, but districts that require face coverings are not eligible. And its COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program provides up to $7,000 for parents if their child’s school requires face coverings or quarantines after exposure. It allows parents to use the money for private school tuition or other education costs, and its design mirrors the state’s existing school voucher program.
The program had few takers, despite Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s office touting it as a response to an outcry from parents. As of last week, only 85 students received the vouchers and less than $600,000 of the $10 million had been allocated.
Also last week, the governor created a third program that may violate Treasury Department spending rules. This is another $10 million school voucher program for parents whose children’s schools close even a day after Jan. 2 due to COVID-19.
In a Friday letter, the Treasury Department warned the state has 60 days to remove anti-masking provisions before the federal government recovers the relief money, and it threatened to suspend the next tranche as well. help.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the mask be worn universally in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“By discouraging families and school districts from following these guidelines, the conditions referenced above undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” the Treasury Department wrote. “Accordingly, these school programs as currently structured are ineligible uses of (Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds).”
On Friday, Ducey’s chief of staff pushed back against the Biden administration’s claims.
“We think this program is fair,” said Daniel Ruiz. “We will champion this program and any future programs designed to catch up with children and alleviate the learning loss” that has occurred over the past year.
Arizona has already received about half of the $ 4.2 billion allocated to the state under the 2021 coronavirus relief bill.