Two of Governor Ducey’s school funding programs which use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act approved by Congress in 2021 are under pressure from the Biden Administration due to the “anti mask” policy.
Arizona’s Education Plus-Up program and the Covid 19 Recovery Benefit Program penalize schools that have mask mandates and assists parents with funding for private schools if they move their kids due to a schools Covid policies.
The programs at question are:
⁃ Arizona’s Education Plus-Up Program is a $163 million program that provides additional funding to schools but if a school requires face masks or closes due to Covid the school will not receive the additional federal funding.
⁃ The COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Program, a $10 million program which provides up to $7,000 to families to send their child to a private school or for other tuition needs if their school requires face masks or has other Covid protocols such as closures or quarantine.
The Treasury Department ordered the end of both programs due to their “anti mask” policy and threatened Arizona with repayment if the state does not comply within 60 days.
Governor Ducey has filed a lawsuit arguing that “Nothing in that underlying statute authorizes Treasury to condition the use of (ARPA) monies on following measures that, in the view of Treasury, stop the spread of COVID-19,” the lawsuit says. “If Congress had truly intended to give Treasury the power to dictate public health edicts to the States, and recoup or withhold (monies) … it would have spoken clearly on the matter. It did not.”
The Treasury Department cited the CDCs recommendation that students mask up and stated in a letter that “By discouraging families and school districts from following this guidance, the conditions referenced above undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,”
Several school districts in Arizona, including Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD), still require children to wear face masks including cloth masks. Studies have shown cloth masks have little impact on stopping the spread of the virus.
FUSD has seen a drop in enrollment and is now considered at financial risk according to a recent auditor general report. Home schooling and a demand for private schooling has seen an uptick in Arizona over the past two years. Families at other schools such as Flagstaffs Northland Predatory Academy (NPA) have also lost students due to mask and other policies.
There are several bills working their way through the Arizona Legislature that if passed will ban schools from enacting mask mandates.