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Feds: Do you want your $2.3 billion, Florida? State misses school funding deadline

Florida is the only state that has not submitted a plan to receive the federal funds for education.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida schools are in jeopardy of losing more than $2.3 billion in federal funding, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

That's because the Florida Department of Education reportedly has failed to submit a plan for that money by the deadline. 

In a letter sent Monday to Florida DOE Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the U.S. Department of Education said the Sunshine State is the only state to not submit a plan for using the rest of its more than $7 billion funding allotment in schools. 

The letter details the U.S. DOE needs a plan from the FDOE on how the state intends to spend the $2.3 billion dollars.

A spokesperson for the U.S. DOE said the final $2.3 billion in ARP ESSER funds was awarded, but before the money is sent to FDOE, the U.S. DOE needs a plan for 'student support and transparency.' The U.S. DOE stated they are available to provide support to the FDOE in order to move forward.

The plan was due in June. Florida missed out on that deadline, and the state has missed two additional deadline extensions, according to the DOE. 10 Tampa Bay asked a spokesperson for the U.S. DOE if there is another deadline to submit the plan, their response, "as the letter states, the Department remains ready to provide any support that FDOE may need to move forward with the State’s ARP ESSER Plan."

States received two-thirds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funding up front under the American Rescue Plan passed in March. The remaining third was to be awarded only after states received approval from the U.S. Department of Education.

In Florida’s case, $4.6 billion in ESSER funding has been awarded. But because the state failed to submit a plan for approval to the U.S. Department of Education by June 7, more than $2.3 billion in additional funding is being held up.

Locally, districts explained this funding is needed. In Hillsborough County, Superintendent Addison Davis and board members wrote a letter to Commissioner Richard Corcoran on September 21, 2021, asking the status of the state’s plan to distribute the funds to schools. 

In that letter, Hillsborough school leaders said, “these dollars are necessary for ensuring our district can best meet the needs of students in Hillsborough County and inauspicious conditions.” 

Hillsborough officials also stated they are projected to receive approximately $491 million in ESSER III dollars. According to school leaders, that money is “desperately needed.”

In Sarasota County, a spokesperson for the district said back in August the district’s finance team never received any information about how to apply for the funding and how much would be available for Sarasota Public Schools. The district’s spokesperson said, to date, the district still hasn’t been made aware of how much would be allocated for Sarasota and how to apply for the funding.

RELATED: Yes, Florida is 1 of 5 states to not submit plans to receive billions in federal COVID money for schools

"FDOE’s delay raises significant concerns because of the unnecessary uncertainty it is creating for school districts across the State and because it is hindering their ability to confidently plan for how to use these funds to address the needs of students," Ian Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs for the U.S. Department of Education, wrote in the letter, according to The Miami Herald.

Only recently was Florida approved for more than $1 billion in federal relief funding by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program will give a one-time grant of $375 per child to each family that qualifies. 

Before submitting a plan, Florida was one of the only states that didn't apply for the program, which helps to provide food to students. 

RELATED: Florida kids to receive over $1B in school lunch relief

To date, Florida has received nearly $13.4 billion from the U.S. Department of Education's Education Stabilization Fund (ESF). As of Oct. 5, slightly less than $3.2 billion has been spent.

The Associated Press says Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' office responded by saying some first-round money hasn't been spent yet, and some districts' plans for the second round are still being reviewed or haven't been submitted. 

“If you are willing to identify any of the specific school districts that have complained, we would be happy to provide you the specifics for those districts. We will continue to ensure their needs are met,” DeSantis’ office told AP.

DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw responded to 10 Tampa Bay with the following statement, saying, in part:

First, let us be clear that we’re not going be held hostage by this persistent badgering by the U.S. Department of Education. 

Let’s keep in mind that this is the same federal agency that launched a fictitious civil rights investigation against Florida because of our lawful fight against elected school boards, several of which are still to this day preventing access to a free and public education for many students, including many students with disabilities.  This is also the same U.S. DOE that has rampantly trampled on families’ federally and state protected rights to educational and health privacy. Suffice to say, U.S. DOE has lost sight of the law.

We do intend to apply for the remaining ESSER 3 (ARP Act) funds -- and when we do, we’ll certainly let you know.

Again, it is difficult for us to take seriously this childish tirade of these bureaucrats in D.C., who have consistently attempted to discredit us with a series of baseless and unscientific attacks that are only meant to distract us from providing Florida’s students with a free and public education.

Florida led the nation in reopening schools for in-person instruction.  Florida is leading the nation in fighting for the educational and privacy rights of its families.  And we are not done fighting.