Federal officials question relief funds for Florida teacher $1,000 bonuses

Florida bonuses don’t fit federal guidelines, U.S. Department of Education says

FILE - In this April 30, 2021, file photo surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. Now that the pandemic appears to be waning and DeSantis is heading into his reelection campaign next year, he has emerged from the political uncertainty as one of the most prominent Republican governors and an early White House front-runner in 2024 among Donald Trump's acolytes, if the former president doesn't run again. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ highly touted plan to give teachers and principals $1,000 bonuses using federal COVID-19 relief funds could be in trouble after the state was informed that extra pay appears to conflict with the intended use of the money.

The U.S. Department of Education sent Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran a letter on Wednesday saying that while there is a path to provide premium pay for educators, the way Florida approved the bonuses doesn't appear to fit federal guidelines.

Ian Rosenblum, a deputy assistant secretary at the federal agency, said enhanced pay needs to be “reasonable and necessary.” He added that funds are to be used to address learning loss during the pandemic through programs that respond to students' academic, social and emotional needs.

DeSantis made the bonuses one of his highest budget priorities and toured schools to tout them while posing with teachers holding an enormous mock check. DeSantis has also boasted about his decision to require in-person instruction at public schools at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year and has often said states that shut schools down were making a mistake that will have negative effects for years.

The Florida Department of Education is reviewing the letter, said spokesperson Jason Mahon.

“It is surprising that the U.S. Department of Education would suggest that a $1,000 disaster relief payment is not ‘reasonable or necessary’ given the dedication teachers in Florida have shown to keep schools open, allow in-person learning and recover lost learning the entire school year,” Mahon said in an email.

Rosenblum ended his letter by saying he’ll work with the state to make sure relief money is spent as intended.