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Ducey office’s says 2 Arizona school districts are ineligible for 1st round of grant funds

Two Phoenix-area districts with mask mandates are not eligible for the first round of funding from a grant program by Gov. Doug Ducey, and his office is reviewing the eligibility status of others also anticipating these initial dollars, his spokesmen told KJZZ. These funds haven't been disbursed yet.

→  List: Arizona school districts requiring masks for 2021-2022 school year

When Ducey  first announced his Education Plus Up grant program — which was under review by the U.S. Treasury department for possible misuse of federal COVID-19 relief funds — his office said only schools that didn’t receive much federal COVID-19 relief funding and didn’t require masks would be eligible. But some districts with mask policies such as Kyrene and Tempe Union were included in a list of fund allocations  released last week. Kyrene and Tempe Union were expected to get total allocations of $5.2 million and $2.8 million, respectively. But Ducey’s office told KJZZ those districts are actually not eligible.

The governor’s office provided KJZZ with documents where the Kyrene and Tempe Union districts state they “strongly recommend” or “expect and support” mask usage.

"Those two LEAs, Tempe Union and Kyrene, submitted COVID-19 mitigation plans that suggested inaccurately they were in compliance with the requirements to receive this grant," a Ducey spokesman said in a statement. "Information published publicly by those LEAs appears to contradict the documents they submitted. Due to these discrepancies, the grants team will be issuing a letter to these LEAs notifying them of their ineligibility for this current round of funding."

The governor’s office is also reviewing applications by other schools with mask requirements that were also part of its initial list of fund allocations.

When asked if the governor’s grant teams checked the districts’ websites, which clearly state their mask policies, Ducey spokesman CJ Karamargin said his office “trusted the school districts to provide us with accurate, up-to-date information."

The Kyrene district said the document it provided the governor’s office has accurate and current Governing Board regulations.

“What is published on Kyrene’s website is not Board policy or regulation but a list of practices that continue to evolve, in response to the changing landscape of the pandemic,” the district said in a statement.

In addition, the Kyrene district said the application initially did not state that mask mandates were not allowed. The district is confident it was in compliance with all enacted state laws and grant requirements when it submitted its application in mid-September since a new state law that banned mask policy was not scheduled to take effect until late-September. That law has since been  blocked in court.

Tempe Union declined to comment for this story.

Ducey's office said grant funds will be awarded quarterly. This means schools’ total grant awards will be disbursed in four parts, governor’s office said. Districts and charter schools must submit their current policies with each quarterly application to verify they currently meet the requirements to receive grant funds at the time of their submission.

Earlier this month,  a treasury official told Ducey in a letter that his use of federal COVID relief dollars to discourage schools from efforts to stop the spread of the virus was not a “permissible use” of those dollars. Ducey is expected to fix the issues or return the federal money. Ducey has defended his program, and suggested the Biden administration would have to take him to court to get the funds back. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the dollar amounts for each district.

News Education
Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.