Speed Reads

Mask politics

Florida's DeSantis concedes he can't actually cut the salaries of school officials who issue mask requirements

The White House on Wednesday was toying with ways to cover the salaries of Florida school officials targeted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for requiring students, teachers, and school staff to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19's Delta variant. But on Thursday, DeSantis acknowledged he can't actually follow through with his administration's threat to strip those officials of their paychecks. Christina Pushaw, a DeSantis spokeswoman, suggested the school officials cut their own salaries for defying DeSantis' mask mandate ban.

"The issue," Pushaw told the Tampa Bay Times, is that "superintendents and school board members are not state employees. Therefore, the only way the state could tailor the financial penalty would be to withhold an amount of funding equal to their salaries." 

When Alachua County Public Schools officials made that point to the state, that "neither the Florida Department of Education nor the Board of Education control the payroll distribution of school districts," Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he "may recommend" the State Board of Education withhold funds from the Alachua and Broward school districts 'in an amount equal to the salaries of the superintendent and all the members of the school board." Pushaw argued that "it wouldn't be fair to the students" if those school officials did not dock their own pay.

Alachua County Public Schools is at risk of losing $300,000 of its $537 million 2021-22 budget, while Broward County Public Schools could lose $700,000 of its $2.6 billion annual budget, the Times notes.

DeSantis has argued that it is the sole responsibility of parents to decide if their kids wear masks at school, and he has banned both mask and vaccine requirements in the state. On Thursday, President Biden called the local leaders and school officials who buck such bans "heroes" and thanked them for standing up to their governors.