Alachua County School District will lose out on $2 million for defying a ban on mask mandates

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The Putting Parents First Adjustment Deduct, which was approved by the House and would have taken $2 million from Alachua County’s school district, has now been transformed into the Florida School Recognition Program. 

The original proposal would have cut $200 million from the budgets of 12 Florida districts that defied the state’s mask mandates ban put in place during the height of the Delta variant outbreak. Now, the state is implementing a revised version of the Florida School Recognition Program, which allocates money from a $200 million fund to only the 55 districts who abided by DeSantis’ ban.

Mildred Russell, the school board member for District 2, said the “Putting Parents First Adjustment Deduct” would put the children last. 

“It will take money directly from the students and the teachers, so they will be the ones impacted, not the administration,” said Russell. “I would really hate to see that happen in our district or any other district.”

The $200 million cut was proposed by Representative Randy Fine, the chair of the House pre-K-12 appropriations committee, who said the proposal is meant to reward the 55 school districts that followed the ban and “respected the rights of parents.” 

According to statewide polls, the majority of parents wanted a mask mandate, said Jackie Johnson, the director of communication for Alachua County Public Schools. In an attempt to hold school districts accountable for defying the governor, the proposal would have had a negative effect on the group Fine said it attempted to help: parents. 

Fine countered that the penalty won’t be very harmful considering the $105.3 billion state budget had already advanced by the House Appropriations Committee. 

Johnson disagrees.

Although the proposal would affect positions at the district level, the impact would be felt by people who oversee food service programs, safety and security, teaching and learning facilities, transportation and all other essential operations in any school district, Johnson said.

“It's incredibly unrealistic to think that a school district can be operated effectively without the people that they are targeting,” Johnson said. 

If the proposal were to impact the budget, it would limit the district on how it could serve students and teachers. 

With a teacher shortage and an account counselor shortage, it would keep the district from trying to fill those positions. It could also affect maintenance and cause more of a dent in the transportation shortage, Russell said. 

“It will be our students [that it will impact] and they are our future,” Russell said. “So, this really doesn't make sense.”

The school district’s goal at the time was to keep the students and the staff healthy, along with keeping the schools open, Johnson said.

She reasoned that the more people who are out sick, the more difficult it would be to effectively run a school.

“We were doing our very best to keep schools open by implementing a mask mandate, which is exactly what state leaders said they wanted,” Johnson said. 

While the budget cut was pushed to keep the districts that defied the ban accountable, Johnson said the district was already taking responsible actions.

Meghan Hendricks, vice president of the Alachua County Council Parents Teachers Association, said she is concerned about what could happen when the ACCPTA has a district that is already underfunded. 

Florida ranks No. 41 in the nation when it comes to per student funding from the state even though it boasts the ninth largest economy in the nation, Hendricks said. 

“We're already underfunded by our state, and so it just makes it worse for these districts,” Hendricks said. 

The ACCPTA has sent out two notifications across the state about contacting state legislators about the proposal, Hendricks said. 

Johnson and the school district continue to keep in touch with a lobbying firm in collaboration with other districts in the state. 

“Representatives from that firm keep us posted on what's going on in Tallahassee,” Johnson said. 

This $200 million budget cut proposal is not included in the Senate’s state budget, and the Senate and House came to an agreement on March 11

Now, the proposal has been modified to the “Florida School Recognition Program.” This change doesn’t take $200 million away from the 12 school districts, but rather keeps it from them as a recognition fund that rewards the schools that followed the mask mandate without deducting from the schools that did not.

About Anushka Dakshit

Anushka is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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