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Hillsborough schools trying to replace state money lost in stand over masks

School Board also renews support for LGBTQ students amid criticism from ‘parental rights’ supporters.
Hillsborough School Board chairperson Nadia Combs, left, and superintendent Addison Davis, right, are looking for ways to restore state "A-plus" money lost in the battle over school masks.
Hillsborough School Board chairperson Nadia Combs, left, and superintendent Addison Davis, right, are looking for ways to restore state "A-plus" money lost in the battle over school masks. [ DIRK SHADD, IVY CEBALLO | Times (2021) ]
Published Apr. 6

Facing down critics at their Tuesday meeting, Hillsborough County School officials said they are continuing to look for money to replace millions in state funding they stand to lose over their position on student masks.

Superintendent Addison Davis said he has consulted with federal officials but received no promise of funding.

School Board chairperson Nadia Combs reiterated her stand that Florida does not adequately fund education and that she too is petitioning the federal government.

At issue is state funding, commonly referred to as “A-plus” or “school recognition” money, that is awarded most years at high-performing schools.

Republican leaders set out this year to sanction 12 school districts, including Hillsborough, that ordered students and staff to wear masks as a protection against COVID-19 long after Gov. Ron DeSantis imposed a ban on masking mandates.

As this year’s legislative session progressed, it became easier to use the A-plus money to reward those districts that complied with DeSantis’ orders.

While it is impossible to know how much money is at stake because the testing season has just begun, in past years Hillsborough schools have received as much as $9 million.

Combs and Davis discussed the A-plus money after audience members, some from the conservative Moms for Liberty organization, criticized them on a number of fronts.

Some speakers said they were bothered by a statement the district issued during public debate over this year’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics are calling the “don’t say gay” law. At the time, the district issued a statement affirming its commitment to diversity and tolerance. Tuesday’s speakers said that statement promoted a false narrative about the controversial new law.

As it turned out, the board on Tuesday adopted a new proclamation with more emphatic support of the LGBTQ community.

“We know that our LGBTQ+ youth are vulnerable and should be confident that their schools are supportive and nurturing learning environments,” the proclamation states. “This vulnerable student group is three times more likely than their heterosexual and cisgender peers to seriously consider suicide.”

Board member Jessica Vaughn, trying to find middle ground, said that “parental rights can coincide with inclusive classrooms. They don’t have to counteract each other.”

Other audience speakers chided district leaders for the position they took on masking, which now stands to cost the schools millions of dollars.

Another group, larger than usual, lined up to read sexually explicit passages from school library books as they continue to challenge the schools’ selection of reading materials.

As for the school recognition money, Davis told the board that “we’ll try every avenue that we can to be able to bring that funding to our school district.”

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