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Florida lawmakers start fundraising effort to support schools violating mask mandate ban

'I think the Democrats were trying to pull off a media stunt,' CFO Jimmy Patronis says
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Posted at 6:00 PM, Aug 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-11 18:00:25-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As the mask debate rages in Florida, a growing coalition of state and federal officials are trying to circumvent the governor's mandate ban in public schools.

At least two districts, Alachua and Broward counties, are not complying with the order.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in letters to each of the districts that they could lose funds "in an amount equal to the salaries of the Superintendent and the members of the School Board."

Several Democratic state senators plan to start a fundraising effort to offset any losses. The online project is still in the works, but Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said she expected it would be ready soon.

"Threatening to take a superintendent's pay away from them is just egregious," she said. "I mean this is America, isn't it? We're just sick and tired of it. What else can we do, you know?"

Meanwhile, Florida's CFO Jimmy Patronis cautioned that the attempt might violate state code.

In a post on Twitter, he wrote giving money directly to a public official to affect a political outcome sounded "a lot like bribery."

"I think the Democrats were trying to pull off a media stunt and they got caught," the Republican told us. "You can't pay public officials with money for a policy outcome. You cannot use your official position for political purposes. That's the definition of corruption."

Cruz was unfazed by the comment.

State Sen. Janet Cruz discusses push to funds schools that have mask mandates
State Sen. Janet Cruz discusses plans to fund schools that have mask mandates if state dollars are withheld.

"Alright, take us to court," she said. "Let's see what the judges have to say about trying to pay teachers who've had their pay withheld."

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has also started working with the White House to find other revenue streams to aid schools.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki suggested Tuesday that federal COVID-19 relief funds earmarked for schools could fill the potential losses.

"They're federal funds," she said. "They're under federal discretion."

Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis has continued defending his order as putting parents in charge.

On Wednesday, he dismissed the federal-dollars idea as misappropriation and warned he wouldn't back down if federal officials made further efforts to void his directive.

"Obviously, if you're talking about the federal government coming in and overruling parents in our communities, that would be something we would fight back vociferously," DeSantis said addressing the possibility of a federal mask mandate for schools.

To date, the state has yet to act on its threat to withhold funds. It may only be a matter of time as more districts start class in the coming days.