TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - Gov. Ron DeSantis said that he expects $1,000 bonuses promised to teachers and principals using federal coronavirus relief funds to be delivered in August.
The governor's comments on Tuesday came despite the U.S. Department of Education questioning whether the plan is at odds with federal guidelines.
DeSantis began touting the plan to use $216 million in federal stimulus money for educator bonuses in March, saying the $1,000 checks would serve as "a token of the appreciation" for school employees who worked amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But in a letter to state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent June 30, U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs Ian Rosenblum questioned whether Florida's plan would be allowable under federal guidelines for the use of what are known as "ESSER" funds.
Rosenblum wrote that "premium pay is an allowable use of ESSER funds as long as it is 'reasonable and necessary and consistent'" with guidelines for spending under the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus plan signed by President Joe Biden in March. However, Rosenblum added that Florida's plan would conflict with a specified pot of money under the American Rescue Plan that must be used "to address 'learning loss' through evidence-based interventions and to provide evidence-based summer enrichment and afterschool programs."
According to the federal education agency, the pot of money that states can use to provide bonuses is at issue.
"The Department is not informing states that they cannot use ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds for premium pay. States can use funds classified as 'optional' under the State Reserve for that purpose. But funds classified as 'required' must be used to address learning loss. That's a very important distinction," a spokesperson for the department said in an email to The News Service of Florida.
At a media event in Orlando Tuesday, the governor said that teachers and principals are still on track to be "mailed a check" in August.
"I think we're good to go. We're using the federal funding from ... one of the ESSER pots. It absolutely can be used for bonuses," DeSantis told reporters.
The governor went on to say he isn't yet sure whether the bonuses would be taxed.
"I think the question that we have is, was the (Biden) administration going to tax the bonuses, and I think they might. Obviously, we don't believe it should be taxable."
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