Education Department promises support to districts penalized for COVID-19 measures
The Department of Education is promising to support school districts that get penalized for their COVID-19 protocols, unveiling on Thursday a grant program to provide the districts funding.
The agency on Thursday unveiled Project Supporting America’s Families and Education (SAFE), which will provide funding for districts that had money withheld because they implemented measures such as universal indoor masking.
The department said the money can be used to restore the withheld funding, such as paying school board members or superintendents who had their pay cut. The agency also said the funding will help districts improve student safety and well-being by moving forward with strategies to reduce COVID-19 transmission in schools.
The agency said it intends to invite school districts to apply for grants in the “coming weeks,” and plans to make awards available “on an ongoing basis.”
The money would go directly to local education agencies.
The announcement comes as school districts in several GOP-led states tussle with state governments over imposing mask mandates, defying executive orders and laws barring them from implementing such measures.
The Biden administration has said it stands by school districts that impose mask mandates. The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has opened investigations into statewide mask mandate bans in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.
Biden took aim at those states in a speech Thursday.
“To all school officials trying to do the right thing by our children, I’ll always be on your side. Right now, local school officials are trying to keep children safe in a pandemic while their governor picks a fight, and even threatens their salaries or their jobs. Talk about bullying in schools. if these governors won’t help … I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way,” he said.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement Thursday that “We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them.”
“We stand with the dedicated educators doing the right thing to protect their school communities, and this program will allow them to continue that critical work of keeping students safe,” he said.
The grant program is part of President Biden’s larger plan to keep schools open during the pandemic. The White House said the grant program is beyond the $130 billion from the American Rescue Plan that school districts can use to help fill funding gaps.