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Arizona Gov. Ducey rejects federal warning that he's misspending COVID-19 relief funds

Gov. Doug Ducey  told the Arizona Republic he has “no plan” to alter two school grant programs that U.S. Treasury Department officials say violate federal spending rules.

The governor earmarked $163 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for schools, but only for those that don’t mandate masks on campus. Another $10 million is designated to provide vouchers to parents who want to remove their children from schools that require masks.

Both programs are “not a permissible use” of funds, according to the Treasury Department. In a letter to the governor on Tuesday, federal officials warned that if Ducey doesn’t change course, they’d demand the state pay back those funds.

Ducey told the Republic he’d defend his spending choices in court.

“In Arizona, our kids are going to have a choice on where they go to school, and that’s where those dollars are going to go,” Ducey said. “If the Biden administration wants to challenge us in court, we’ll see you there.”

Ducey has criticized mask mandates in schools, as well as quarantine requirements for students exposed to the coronavirus, as “overbearing measures.” Treasury officials say Ducey’s attempt to discourage mask mandates with his spending of federal funds violates the intent of the funds — to “contain the spread and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.