TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Gov. Doug Ducey's office announced $163 million in grants available to Arizona schools Tuesday, but there's a catch.
In a news release, the governor's office says the $1,800-per-pupil grants are only available to district and charter schools that "follow all state laws and remain open for in-person instruction" through the entire school year.
The move comes as districts across the state openly defy a law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year that prohibits mask requirements in schools. In southern Arizona, that includes the Tucson Unified School District, Amphitheater School District, Nogales Unified School District and Catalina Foothills Unified School District, so far.
Most of the school districts affected seemed unfazed by the announcement.
"We always have and are continuing to follow all state laws," a Catalina Foothills Unified School District spokeswoman told KGUN 9. "We opened the school year for full-time in-person instruction on August 9. Also, we do not provide a remote learning option at all this year."
An Amphitheater School District spokeswoman told KGUN9, "This has no impact on Amphitheater. We aren’t eligible for the funds."
The law also forbids schools from treating vaccinated an unvaccinated students differently, forbidding schools from requiring or incentivizing students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In a court ruling Monday afternoon, a Maricopa County Superior Court Judge ruled that the legislature's ban on mask mandates doesn't take effect until 90 days after the legislative session, as do most other laws. That would make the mask mandate ban effective starting Sept. 29.
The governor says the $163 million for the grants comes through funding from the federal government passed in the American Rescue Plan earlier this year.
In a related move Tuesday, Ducey announced another $10 million in grants available to parents "who are facing 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," a news release says.
Parents can receive up to $7,000 per student that can be used for child care, transportation, online tutoring and tuition costs. The governor's office says parents have to prove "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," contrary to state law.
Parents eligible for the funding also must have a household income at or below 350% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo released a statement on the governor's announcement:
"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. 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."