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Florida has not applied for billions in federal schools aid

Florida is the only state in the country not to apply for the third round of funding from $7 billion allocated to help schools under the Biden administration’s stimulus legislation.
Gov. Ron DeSantis listens as Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran answers a reporter’s questions at Clearwater's High Point Elementary School in September.
Gov. Ron DeSantis listens as Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran answers a reporter’s questions at Clearwater's High Point Elementary School in September. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Oct. 4
Updated Oct. 5

TALLAHASSEE — A top U.S. Department of Education official on Monday pressed Florida to submit a plan that shows how it intends to use roughly $7 billion in federal relief aid for schools. If it does not, the state could leave $2.3 billion on the table.

Related: Hillsborough schools are in a $60M hole. They might ask for a tax increase.

Florida is the only state in the country not to apply for the third round of funding from $7 billion allocated to help schools under the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan stimulus legislation, which was signed into law in March.

The first two-thirds of that funding was allocated in March, but until the Florida Department of Education submits a plan, the federal government won’t release the third round worth $2.3 billion.

The Florida Department of Education’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,” wrote Ian Rosenblum, the deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

States were asked to submit their spending plans by June. In the letter, Ronsenblum said the state also missed deadlines in July and August that the federal agency expected the state to meet after conversations with staff.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration did not indicate any immediate plans to apply for the last round of money when asked on Monday.

DeSantis’ office did not directly say why it has not submitted a plan, but noted that “no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources.”

Related: Florida is wrong about federal COVID funds; schools need the money, Pasco says

“Whenever this may change in the future, the state of Florida will coordinate with (the U.S. Department of Education) to ensure Florida students and educators have all the resources they need,” DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, said in a statement to the Times/Herald.

Pushaw contended that schools have money available from the first two rounds of federal relief funds and argued Florida has spent more than many other states. She added that the money is available for use until September 2024.

Under federal guidelines, the state education department is given control over 10 percent of the funding for Florida, with the remaining 90 percent intended to go directly to school districts.

In his letter Monday, Rosenblum said Florida’s education department has drawn down $177 million in American Rescue Plan money earmarked for schools “for use at the state level.” Rosenblum said the federal government has “heard repeatedly from parents, teachers, and superintendents from school districts in Florida that FDOE has not yet awarded” disbursements from money already received under the American Rescue Plan.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.