White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference last Friday that Florida is one example of a state that has not done enough to distribute money to keep schools open. The claim comes just a few weeks after the schools of Democratic-controlled Chicago were at a standstill after teacher’s unions refused to restart in-person classes due to the omicron wave. The problem, however, is that Psaki’s assertions are misleading, to say the least.
The claim by Biden’s press secretary came after a reporter asked which states or school districts were the President referring to when he said that not all districts have used the money as well as they should have to keep schools open. Psaki said that an example of this “would be Florida, where they have done little to — to distribute money to — little to no steps to distribute money to state — across the state and to school districts.”
Contrary to what Jen Psaki might have let you believe, Florida schools have remained open for a long time
Let’s start from the main, most obvious point, the public school system has remained open for in-person classes since the Fall of 2020, and schools have continued normal classes ever since. While many school districts in the country have had significant disruptions, Florida has experienced almost none whatsoever.
Christina Pushaw, the press secretary of Governor DeSantis, countered the allegations of Psaki, tweeting that “Florida public schools have been open to 100% of K-12 students since the Fall 2020 semester. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many Democrat-run areas that received billions of dollars to “safely reopen schools” but are still forcing kids to do ineffective Zoom classes.”
The other part of Psaki’s claims has to do with the amount of money that Florida has destined to prepare schools for the COVID pandemic. The press secretary appears to have been referencing the fact that Florida was the last state to submit its plan to the DOE for receiving the final third of the emergency funding for schools that came from the American Rescue Plan of 2021. A delay occurred because, according to Governor DeSantis, at the time “no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources.”
While this is true, Psaki forgot to mention that Florida (as the rest of the states) had already received a majority of the money (almost $7 billion) destined to schools and provided no evidence on how has Florida failed to distribute that money. In fact, the portal of the U.S Department of Education recording the amount of money given to each state as part of the COVID response indicates Florida has spent $4.6 billion of the funds it received, $0.5 billion more than New York, which had its schools closed for a far longer time than Florida.
Regardless, Florida’s plan was approved by the DOE earlier this month, and it will be able to receive the last third of the money for COVID preparedness.
Even if Psaki’s criticism was centered on the delay of Florida to submit a plan, there are a couple of things that don’t add up on her argument. Firstly, she claimed the state “have done little” to distribute money across the state’s public school system when Florida had already distributed a fair share of funds. Secondly, and most importantly, is that even if Florida had not received the final third of COVID-related emergency funding for schools, the fact is that Florida has retained its schools open for years now. Hence, it makes little sense to mention Florida when asked a question about the role of federal funding in keeping schools open.
Pushaw has also pushed hard against Psaki’s claims that Florida has not spent enough money in its school system, arguing that the only difference between Florida and other Democratic-controlled states is that the latter did not use federal money to finance CRT courses.