Treasury official to Ducey: Get education programs into compliance or lose recovery funds

By Rocio Hernandez
Published: Friday, January 14, 2022 - 12:45pm
Updated: Friday, January 14, 2022 - 1:02pm

The U.S. Treasury Department is threatening to take back more than $170 million in recovery funds or withhold money unless Gov. Doug Ducey's office can address issues it sees with two education programs within 60 days.

The Education Plus Up program promises grants for cash-strapped schools that are following all state laws and not requiring masks. The COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit program would provide vouchers of up to $7,000 per student for families looking to leave schools that are "isolating, quarantining, or subjecting children to physical COVID-19 constraints in schools, such as requiring the use of masks or providing preferential treatment to vaccinated students." 

In a Friday letter, the department's Acting Deputy Chief Compliance Officer Kathleen B. Victorino asks Ducey’s office to either redirect the funds to “eligible uses” or redesign the programs so they are in compliance with rules and requirements of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program. If neither of these steps are followed, it may try to recoup the funds or withhold Arizona’s second tranche installment of SLFRF funds until the issues are adequately addressed. 

During a state budget briefing with reporters, Ducey's Chief of Staff Daniel Ruiz said he was still trying to track down because he wasn't sure where the department sent it and said Biden's office is the "least communicative" administration he's ever worked with. 

“We’re going to challenge whatever they’ve asserted in the letter. We think that this program is above board. We know that parents appreciate it. We know that schools appreciate it," he said. 

Ducey's office also told reporters the EPU grant funds haven't been paid to schools, and since those funds haven't been distributed, they can't be recouped. 

Ruiz also points out that the COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and that some schools have voluntarily returned to mask optional policies. 

"Parents want their kids back in the classroom," he said. "They want to stop talking about masks, they want to start talking about math and getting kids caught up."

Last week, Ducey announced two new programs also funded with federal COVID-19 recovery dollars. One is a voucher program that would give up to $7,000 to families of students at schools that close for even one day. Ducey called it a preemptive action to keep in-person learning going in the state. The other is a summer learning program to get kids caught up in math, reading and civics.

CoronavirusPolitics Education