Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
First Coast

Fla. Education Commissioner Threatens to Withhold $22k A Month From Duval Schools

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran
Florida House of Representatives

The Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) Board could lose board funding as soon as Thursday, according to a letter sent to Duval County Schools officials by Florida’s education commissioner.

In a letter issued Friday August 27, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran states his intention to withhold funds unless DCPS officials issue a written response outlining “full compliance” with state rules. The commissioner gave the district’s superintendent and school board chair a Wednesday, Sept. 1, 5:00 p.m. deadline.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Education said it had not yet received the requested documentation. A DCPS spokesperson said the district is in consultation with legal counsel who will respond on the district’s behalf.

The commissioner told the district he plans to withhold “funds in an amount equal to the salaries for all the members of the school board.” State records show DCPS school board salary expenses total about $22,000 a month.

The Florida Department of Education announced Monday it would withhold similar funding from Alachua and Broward County Schools equal to the salaries of school board members (about $16,000 a month in Alachua County and $35,000 a month in Broward County). The Biden administration has previously authorized using federal pandemic relief funds to cover school board salaries if Florida follows through on its threats to withhold funding.

DCPS issued an emergency mask mandate last week that takes effect Sept. 7 for 90 days. The new policy includes a medical opt-out option. A licensed doctor or psychologist has to sign off if a parent wants to opt their student out of the mask mandate.

According to the education commissioner’s letter, the state's rules don’t require medical documentation. The commissioner alleges requiring medical certification amounts to non-compliance with the department of education.

However, Second Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled Friday that the governor and state education officials had overstepped their authority in preventing school boards from issuing mask mandates.

“Such action exceeds the authority given to the defendants under the Parent’s Bill of Rights.” Cooper said in his ruling.

The defendants are Gov. Ron DeSantis, Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Board of Education. DeSantis told reporters in Jacksonville Tuesday his office plans to appeal once the ruling has been formally submitted to the courts. Judge Cooper said he expects to submit and sign a written ruling sometime this week.

Florida’s education commissioner issued similar threats to Broward and Alachua Counties earlier this month, and followed through on them this week, after Friday’s court ruling. The commissioner’s office said it will withhold monthly salary amounts from the school district’s state funding “until each school board complies with state law and rule.”

Alachua County, like Duval County, has a medical opt out option with their mask mandate. Broward County does not have an broad opt-out option except for students with certain individualized education plans or disabilities. Eight other school districts also have mask mandates in Florida.

Contact Claire Heddles at cheddles@wjct.org, (904) 250 - 0926, or on Twitter at @claireheddles.