TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education---and the Treasury Department are backing up Congressman Raul Grijalva’s opinion that Governor Ducey may be breaking the law with his plan to stop school districts from imposing mask mandates. The Governor plans to send schools more than 160 million dollars in Federal grants but only if they abide by state law that forbids mask mandates.
Treasury says if he doesn’t reverse course the Federal Government may force Arizona to give back the grant money.
Congressman Raul Grijalva says Governor Ducey’s acting like a school yard bully arm twisting schools to drop mask mandates by offering schools part of 163 Million dollars in Federal grants---but only if they comply with state law, including the law that forbids mask requirements.
Grijalva says, “It is a politically selfish act on his part, and jeopardizes children. Of all the consequences politically, what we don't want is to drag our children either to make their life more dangerous through COVID, or to use them as political pawns in trying to get your way,”
Grijalva wrote a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona saying Governor Ducey’s action is an abuse of Federal funds meant to help schools re-open safely in COVID conditions. Grijalva says he’s asked the Department of Education---and the Department of Justice to rule on whether it’s legal for Governor Ducey to send the money only to schools that have refused to impose mask mandates.
“I'm hopeful and encouraged that the Department of Education and Department of Justice are going to look at this immediately. And prior to that August 27 deadline, and, and see what can be done about it because I think this unilateral power to punish people is not is not what the CARES money is about it's about helping people. And in this instance, helping education and helping children.
Responding to the Congressman’s comments, The Governor’s Office simply says, “We’re confident the program used to distribute these funds aligns with Federal guidance.”
But not long after that the U.S. Education Secretary did send Governor Ducey a letter scolding him for working to prevent districts from imposing mask mandates.
"Arizona’s actions to block school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts these goals at risk.”
The letter goes on to say the US Department of Education expects local school districts to have the freedom to develop their own plans for safe resumption of in person instruction---and those plans should meet CDC recommendations including “The universal and correct wearing of masks.”
The letter did not mention any penalties to state government. Instead, It talked about looking forward to working together toward fostering safe, in person instruction---and confirming Arizona is meeting its fiscal requirements for use of Federal education funds.
The U.S. Treasury Department also says it’s improper for Governor Ducey to use the Federal grants to work against public health measures like masks---and it threatens to take back the money if he persists.
“A primary purpose of the State and Local Funding in the American Rescue Plan is to support efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control has identified vaccines and masks as two of our best tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in school settings. No state should use federal funds to prevent or discourage schools from using evidence based approaches to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Treasury is monitoring all proposed expenditures and expects any state or local government that uses State and Local funds in violation of the eligible uses to repay the misused funds to the federal government.” - Treasury spokesperson