PHOENIX (KVOA) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday a $163 million grant for schools -- but only schools following all state laws are eligible.
Earlier this month, several schools districts across the state defied a newly passed state law that bars mask mandates.
On July 15, Ducey issued an executive order, prohibiting universities and community colleges from requiring masks, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, submit COVID-19 vaccination documents or take COVID-19 tests. After signing House Bill 2898 into law, the governor expanded its restrictions on COVID-19 mitigation efforts as this legislation prevents schools from mandating masks for students and staff. The bill officially goes into effect on Sept. 29.
On July 30, Phoenix Union High School District became the first district to implement a mask mandate in defiance of the recently approved state law. Tucson Unified School District and several other districts followed suit and required masks while inside district facilities.
On Monday, a judge at Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that Phoenix Union has not yet violated the statewide face-covering law. Shortly after the ruling, Catalina Foothills and Amphitheater unified schools districts implemented their own mask mandate.
According to the governor, the $1,800-per-student grants are available to district and charter schools "following all state laws and remaining open for in-person instruction as of August 27 and throughout the remainder of the school year."
The $163 million comes through the federal American Rescue Plan, according to Ducey's office.
Shortly after this announcement was made, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero took to Twitter to respond to the governor's latest action.
"Has Gov. Doug Ducey gone mad? This is absolutely evil and grotesque," Romero said. "School districts should not have to choose between protecting their students and receiving federal funds that the Governor has sat on until now."
Tucson Unified School District currently has a mask mandate in place. When this announcement was made, district officials reiterated that Arizona's ban on mask mandates at school districts will only go into effect on Sept. 29.
"It is disappointing to learn of Governor Ducey’s intention to withhold $163 million in grant funding from school districts with a vaccine or mask mandate and to only make these funds available to school districts that 'follow all state laws'. According to yesterday’s Maricopa County Superior Court ruling by Judge Warner the Tucson Unified School District is in full compliance with state laws pertaining to the offering of in-person learning and a school district’s authority to implement a mask mandate as part of its COVID 19 mitigation protocols as HB2898 does not go into effect until September 29, 2021," TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said. "The grant eligibility requirement that limits access to funding exclusively for districts and schools that have received less than $1,800 in ESSER or ESG funds systematically eliminates access to this vital funding source for most traditional public-school districts across the state while prioritizing funding access for elite private and charter institutions. This is another unfortunate example of the kind of inequity that has plagued our educational system and that has the potential to further exacerbate the achievement gap in this state. "
Rep. Raul Grijalva also spoke out against the governor's action later that afternoon.
“Governor Ducey has wasted no time in doubling down on his anti-public schools, anti-mask and anti-vaccine agenda,” he said. "This latest undertaking of forcing public schools to choose between critical federal relief funds or the health and safety of its students, families and faculty is simply cruel. When Congress allocated those federal funds, the intent was to help districts reopen schools in a safe manner, including alleviating costs related to pandemic safety measures like ventilation systems and personal protective equipment. Schools who are taking all those preventative measures should not be penalized or fall victims of poor leadership from the State. If Governor Ducey was truly worried about the well-being of our children, he would focus on stopping the rapidly increasing community spread of COVID rather than continuing with his political posturing. I will be sending the Biden Administration an inquiry regarding the legality of withholding federal relief funds from k-12 schools that choose to safely reopen by implementing critical mitigation efforts."
Fellow House of Representatives member Greg Stanton said Ducey's move to only provide ARP funding to school districts who are "following all state laws" violates Congressional law.
"The Governor's gambit to deny American Rescue Plan funds to schools following CDC guidance not only puts students at risk—it violates the law as written by Congress," he said. "The U.S. Treasury should make clear that these funds should go to all schools."
Kathy Hoffman, Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, also took to Twitter to share her thoughts about Ducey's recent actions related to combating COVID-19 in the state.
"Today's announcements demonstrate a remarkable ability to ignore any lessons from a year and a half of dealing with COVID-19. The goal is in-person learning - something that cannot be achieved by forcing sick students to go back to school with their healthy peers. And as a reminder for Governor Doug Ducey, no student under the age of 12 is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine," Hoffman said. "This is yet another outrageous attack on public education by the Governor when he should be listening to school leaders and educators on what is needed to keep students safe, and schools open. We need serious leadership to get our students and schools through this pandemic, and that is woefully lacking from the 9th Floor."
Also on Tuesday, Ducey shared that Arizona would provide $10 million for a COVID-19 relief program geared toward helping K-12 students and families who face "financial and educational barriers due to unnecessary closures and school mandates and that are not in compliance with the provisions set forth in state law."
Through this program, families can receive up to $7,000 per student for "needs related to child care, transportation, online tutoring and tuition."
To qualify, families must have a total household income that is at or below 350 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. In addition, the families must be able to " demonstrate that their current school is isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical COVID-19 constraints in schools, such as requiring the use of masks or providing preferential treatment to vaccinated students."
“We are committed to keeping all Arizona kids on track, closing the achievement gap and equipping underserved students and families with the tools they need to thrive,” Ducey said. “Our COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit will empower parents to exercise their choice when it comes to their child’s education and COVID-19 mitigation strategies. It will also give families in need the opportunity to access educational resources like tutoring, child care, transportation and other needs. We know that historically disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of excessive and overbearing measures, and we want to ensure these students are protected.”