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The federal government approves Florida's plan for how to spend education money

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The U.S. Department of Education has approved Florida’s plan for how the state intends to spend billions of dollars in federal aid for schools, after money was withheld because of a delay in the state submitting the proposal.

Federal officials had been withholding a third of the more than $7 billion dollars that was allocated for Florida schools under the American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus law that passed last year. About $2.35 billion was released to the state. The federal government released the initial two-thirds of each state’s allocation in March, with Florida receiving just shy of $4.7 billion.

Under federal guidelines, the state Department of Education is given control over 10 percent of the money for Florida, with the remaining 90 percent going directly to school districts.

“I am excited to announce approval of Florida’s plan,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement Friday “It is heartening to see, reflected in these state plans, the ways in which states are thinking deeply about how to use American Rescue Plan funds to continue to provide critical support to schools and communities.”

The federal education department said Florida’s plan includes expenditures aimed at “addressing the academic impact of lost instructional time” when campuses were shuttered and students were forced to learn online early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state will use money to implement a tutoring initiative for early grades, invest in summer learning and expanded after-school programs and “support math acceleration and expand computer science credentials in high schools,” among other uses.

Florida’s delay in submitting its plan was a point of friction between the state and federal education departments last year.

Ian Rosenblum, a deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs at the federal agency, wrote a letter to state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Oct. 4 that said Florida was the lone state or U.S. territory with a plan still outstanding.

“FDOE’s (the Florida Department of Education’s) delay raises significant concerns because of the unnecessary uncertainty it is creating for school districts across the state and because it is hindering their ability to confidently plan for how to use these funds to address the needs of students,” Rosenblum wrote.

Jared Ochs, a spokesman for the state education department, disputed in an Oct. 6 email that the state had missed the June 7 deadline. Ochs wrote that the state had notified its federal counterparts in May that the department “would not be able to submit the state plan in June and would require additional time.”

Florida nonetheless submitted its plan days after receiving Rosenblum’s letter, on Oct. 7.

Corcoran wrote that the state’s plan to spend the money would advance four goals: closing achievement gaps, improving reading and math outcomes, bolstering outcomes in other content areas and enhancing student services and supports.

Several congressional Democrats touted the approval of Florida’s plan in a news release sent out by the federal agency Friday.

“I am thrilled to see the (U.S.) Department of Education approve Florida’s plan because it will allow us to mitigate learning loss, enhance support services, and promote the mental and physical health of our students,” U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said in a statement.

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Ryan Dailey - News Service of Florida
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