Sinema slams Ducey plan to give more funds to schools that follow his rules
PHOENIX — Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona on Tuesday said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan of giving additional funding to schools that comply with certain demands, including not instituting a face mask policy, is dangerous.
“His announcement is dangerous, it undermines science, it undermines the guidance that is given by experts to protect the most vulnerable children,” Sinema told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Gaydos and Chad.
A law that prohibits school districts from requiring students and teachers to wear masks was included as part of the state budget signed by Ducey in June and will go into effect on Sept. 29.
Ducey last week said $163 million from the American Rescue Plan would be distributed among schools that are open for in-person learning as of Aug. 27 and remain in that mode throughout the academic year, while those that defy state law – including the mandating of masks – during the 2021-22 school year would not be eligible for funding.
Schools that qualify, and follow the law, could get up to an additional $1,800 in funding per student.
Sinema emphasized that a majority of children in Arizona classrooms are not old enough to get a vaccine against COVID-19, even if they and their parents wanted them to have it.
“So to say that you are going to punish these schools financially if they take a step to protect the health and safety of those children who depend on us to keep them healthy and safe is absolutely outrageous,” Sinema said.
“Frankly, it is a partisan retaliation against local school districts, local school board leaders and parents who responded to rising COVID rates and have taken action 100% consistent with the CDC guidelines.”
Sinema added she reached out at the federal level because she believes Ducey’s announcement raises legal questions.
She’s not the only one in Washington to be concerned about Ducey’s plan.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a letter Wednesday to Ducey and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said the state’s actions “appears to restrict the development of local health and safety policies and is at odds with the school district planning process embodied in the U.S. Department of Education’s (Department’s) interim final requirements.”
The American Rescue Plan requires schools that receive pandemic relief funding must adopt a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction, according to the letter, with CDC safety recommendations including the “universal and correct wearing of masks.”
Cardona added the department would closely review and monitor whether Arizona is meeting all of its Federal fiscal requirements.
The letter followed President Joe Biden ordering Cardona to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures.
Ducey told reporters on Friday there is no prohibition on masks in Arizona, saying the state prefers to place the decision of masks in the hands of parents.
He remained steadfast in the legality of withholding funding from schools that don’t follow the law.
“I’m confident we’re on solid ground,” Ducey said. “I’ve got sound legal advice.”
Sinema said Ducey should immediately reverse the decision because he’s “endangering the health of Arizona’s children.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.