Biden Dangles New Federal Funds For Schools That Defy Mask Mandate Bans

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Parents drop their children off for the first day of school in Novi, Mich., on Tuesday.

Emily Elconin/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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Watch Live: Biden Plan Would Mandate Vaccines Or Testing For Millions Of Workers

The United States has a long tradition of local control and funding of its 13,000-odd school districts. The federal government has limited oversight powers, and provides around 8 % of total funds spent on public schools. However, the president seems to be leaning heavily on both the carrots and sticks he does have. The actions announced on Thursday include:

  • Some districts are opposing their states to strengthen COVID-19 safety measures. Alachua and Broward counties in Florida, for example, recently defied the governor to require masks in schools. Now, President Biden promises to fill in any gaps in funding that result. This goes above and beyond the $122 billion set aside for school reopenings in the American Rescue Plan. According to the White House, «Local school districts will be able to apply to the Department of Education in the coming weeks to restore funding withheld by state leaders … when a school district implemented strategies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.» The Department of Education announced that the new grant program will be called Project SAFE (Supporting America’s Families and Educators), and it will be funded under Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act. 
  • Teachers and staff directly employed or funded by the federal government — including those at U.S. Department of Defense schools, Bureau of Indian Education-operated schools and Head Start and Early Head Start preschool programs for children in poverty — are now subject to a vaccine requirement. This requirement covers nearly 300,000 school staff serving more than 1 million children. 
  • Biden’s plan also highlights his intention to use the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to go after states that, in the federal government’s view, discriminate against students with disabilities by banning mask mandates. There are already investigations open in five states. 

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In addition, Biden’s plan calls on states to require vaccines for all school employees. There was no reward or sanction explicitly attached to this effort. For now, the president is simply «asking» states to follow the example of places like California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.


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