Florida Teachers May Miss Out on Bonuses After Being Warned They Violate COVID Funding Rules

Florida's plan to use COVID-19 relief funding to provide $1,000 bonuses to nearly 180,000 educators could be at risk, after the Biden administration warned the proposal falls outside of the scope of how the money is supposed to be used.

The U.S. Department of Education sent Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran a letter last week advising that the bonuses included in the budget Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law last month appear to fall outside federal guidelines.

DeSantis had touted the raises as a bonus for reopening schools that had been shuttered at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Florida Department of Education has received the letter and is reviewing it," Jason Mahon, a DeSantis spokesman, told Newsweek in an email. "It is surprising that the U.S. Department of Education would suggest that a $1,000 disaster relief payment is not 'reasonable or necessary' given the dedication teachers in Florida have shown to keep schools open, allow in-person learning, and recover lost learning the entire school year."

According to the Associated Press, federal deputy assistant secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote in the letter that enhanced pay must be "reasonable and necessary" and added that the relief money for schools is intended to address learning loss during the pandemic and focus on students.

The $1,000 bonuses for 180,000 teachers and 3,600 principals became a top budget priority for DeSantis this year, with the Legislature ultimately allocating $215.7 million of Biden's stimulus funds toward them.

DeSantis, who has seen his national political profile rise as he pushed to reopen Florida from the COVID-19 shutdowns, toured the state in May to tout the $1,000 bonus payments—even posing with a giant check.

"We're proud of the teacher compensation momentum we have, and we're proud of these $1,000 bonuses for principals and for the teachers. We think that when the schools are open, when people are working hard and putting the kids and families first, you know, we want to reward that sacrifice," DeSantis said during a news conference in May.

As DeSantis has touted the bonuses, Florida Democrats have given credit to the Biden administration for providing the money directed to fund them.

"Don't let [DeSantis] & the [Florida GOP] take credit for this," the Sarasota County Democrats tweeted on May 26. "The funding for these teacher bonuses came directly from [Biden]'s American Rescue Plan, which every single Republican in Congress voted against."

Newsweek reached out to the Florida Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education for comment but didn't hear back before publication.

Biden administration thwarts Desantis' teacher raise plan
US President Joe Biden alongside Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (L) during a briefing in Miami Beach, Florida, July 1, 2021. Biden flew to Florida on Thursday and met with DeSantis following the collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, . SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images