Some 1,400 Florida Schools Receive $200 Million in ‘School Recognition’ Funds

Funds can be used for nonrecurring expenditures, such as faculty and staff bonuses; purchasing educational equipment; or hiring temporary personnel

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference in Sarasota County on Oct. 17. (Screenshot/Gov. Ron DeSantis/Facebook)

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Some 1,400 Florida schools will share $200 million in state funds because they improved their grading ratings or received an ‘A’ evaluation last school year, including in areas highly damaged by by Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted during a Monday press conference.

“This is 1,400 schools throughout the state of Florida that are going to get this funding, and there’s really been a great showing from areas that had just happened to be hit by Hurricane Ian,” DeSantis said.

The press conference took place at Toledo Blade Elementary school, one of the Sarasota County schools that get some of the money.

“So there’ll be 24 schools in Sarasota county that will receive school recognition bonuses, including $142,000 right here at Toledo Blade Elementary School, which is an ‘A’ school,” DeSantis said.

Seventy-four school districts, including traditional districts plus a handful of lab schools, will get money for demonstrating “sustained or significantly improved student performance,” according to the Florida Department of Education website.

Florida schools are graded by state education officials on an A to F scale based on several points of measurement, including student performance on annual statewide tests and graduation rates.

The distribution of funds varies by district and school size. The Sarasota school district will receive a total of $3.8 million, according to department documents. The Lee County district will receive $3.6 million distributed among 27 schools.

For the Collier County district, that’s $5 million among 38 schools, and, in Charlotte County, six schools will share about $612,000. One elementary school in Hardee County will receive $54,030.

According to the department, the money can be used for nonrecurring expenditures, such as faculty and staff bonuses; purchasing educational equipment; or hiring temporary personnel.

But it’s not just Ian-damaged districts that received these funds. Most got some cut of the pie, notwithstanding efforts during the 2022 Legislative session to disqualify 12 districts that mandated masks be worn in schools during the height of the COVID pandemic.

Controversial funds

Those 12 districts that were almost excluded were Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Duval, Alachua, Brevard, Indian River, Leon, Sarasota, and Volusia.

The argument was that losing the money would hold those districts “accountable” for going against DeSantis administration policy that parents should make the call on whether their children wore masks in classrooms, not local school boards.

The 12 districts opted to mandate masks to protect children and faculty from the spiking COVID pandemic in fall 2021. An earlier version of this penalty would have distributed the money to the 55 districts that obeyed the parental-choice mandate. Ultimately, DeSantis nixed the idea.

During his press conference, DeSantis suggested that additional money from state hurricane relief might be used to assist school teachers and staff who suffered property damage during Ian.

“Still, there’s a lot of needs, and I’ve asked the Department of Education to talk with the different school districts and the affected areas to see how can we use the Florida Disaster Fund to help some of the teachers that may need assistance,” DeSantis said.

That’s a state-managed fund.

First Lady Casey DeSantis held her own press conference Monday, announcing the fund has raised $45 million for hurricane recovery. Ms. DeSantis has been promoting donations to hurricane relief since Ian made landfall in September.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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