FLORIDA — The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) says Florida is the only state in the country leaving billions of dollars in education funding on the table.
That funding comes through the American Rescue Plan, and states were supposed to submit a plan to the Federal Government showing how the money would be spent.
But Florida still hasn’t submitted a plan, and school districts in Southwest Florida are wondering why.
On Monday, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) received a letter from USDOE, saying “FDOE's failure to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential ARP ESSER resources that are needed by school districts and schools.”
"ESSER" stands for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief.
Those resources are $2.3 billion in school funding to help districts struggling due to the pandemic. When we reached out to FLDOE to ask why the agency hasn’t submitted a plan, we were told “At this time, no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources.”
But Lee County School Board Chair Debbie Jordan says they haven’t been sent an application to request that funding.
"We receive that from the state, which we have not received that as of yet. So we could not have possibly articulated anything," said Jordan.
But Jordan said if they could have articulated something, it would be that the money is needed.
"I can’t imagine any district turning down funds that could be used to benefit the students, the staff, everything. I just don’t understand that at all," said Jordan.
So far, Lee County has received more than $135 million in ESSER funding, Collier County has received more than $61 million, and Charlotte County has received more than $44 million.
Political Science Professor Peter Bergerson at Florida Gulf Coast University said he doesn’t believe FLDOE when it says the extra funds aren’t needed.
He believes this is political.
"That’s a dispute between Governor DeSantis, the Florida Department of Education here in Florida, and President Biden and the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C." said Bergerson.
Bergerson said that dispute began when the USDOE promised to reimburse school districts that lost funding from FDOE when they imposed mask mandates.
But Jordan said she hopes school funding is not being used as a political football.
“I certainly would hope that that is not the case, because at the end of the day we have to look out for what is best for all the children and all the districts in Florida," said Jordan.