Florida Misses Multiple Deadlines for Federal COVID Education Funds, Prompting Complaints

Florida missed multiple deadlines to submit a plan to the U.S. Department of Education for $2.3 billion in COVID-19 education funds waiting to be released, according to a letter sent Monday, the Associated Press said.

The failure to submit the plan makes Florida the only state that still hasn't done so and has prompted complaints from officials and politicians.

The letter, sent to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, said the Florida Deparment of Education missed the initial deadline and then follow-up timelines to have the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) money released to the state, the AP reported.

"The Department released the first two-thirds of each State's allocation in March and required each State to submit its plan for spending its ARP ESSER funds by June," Ian Rosenblum, the federal department's deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs, wrote in the letter.

"FDOE did not meet this deadline, nor did it meet the July and August submission timelines that were anticipated following conversations with your staff," he said.

The state education department's "failure" to submit the plan "is delaying the release of essential ARP ESSER resources that are needed by school districts and schools to address the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic," Rosenblum added.

The Florida DOE in an email to Newsweek disputes having missed any deadlines. The state department said that it abided by guidelines set by the U.S. DOE to either submit the plan by June 7 or submit any state requirements that would prevent submission by the deadline, as well as an alternate date by which it would be able to submit the plan.

The Florida DOE said in the email that it had sent a written notice to the U.S. DOE on May 14 that it would not be able to meet the June deadline because it required additional time to obtain and analyze end-of-year student data needed to accurately develop the plan.

The department added that it does intend to submit the state plan for the remaining funds.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida has missed multiple deadlines to submit a plan for federal COVID education funds, but Governor Ron DeSantis says schools haven't completely used up money from the first round of aid. Above, DeSantis waits to present a check to a first responder during an August 10 event in Surfside, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rosenblum also said the delay makes it harder for school districts to plan.

"We have heard repeatedly from parents, teachers, and superintendents from school districts in Florida that FDOE has not yet awarded ARP ESSER funds to local educational agencies," he wrote.

In response to the letter, Governor Ron DeSantis' office said school districts still haven't spent all of the first round of aid. Some district plans are being reviewed for the second round of funding and a few haven't submitted them. It also said that the final third of the money is supposed to last through September 2024.

"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 said.

Asked for comment on Rosenblum's letter, a Florida Department of Education spokesperson referred to the statement from DeSantis' office.

Democrats were quick to criticize the Republican governor's administration for failing to submit a plan for the third round of funding.

"It's embarrassing," Democratic state Representative Angie Nixon said in a statement released by her office.

"The uncertainty this creates for schools and families is absurd. All of Florida's children, no matter who they are or where they live, deserve everything available in order to survive and thrive in this unimaginably difficult time," she said.

Florida Missed Deadlines for COVID Education Funding
Students wear face masks as they attend their first day of school after summer vacation at St. Lawrence Catholic School, north of Miami, on August 18. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images