TV20 EXCLUSIVE: White House Senior official explains new federal “Project SAFE”

Mary Wall, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Education
Mary Wall, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Education
Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 5:18 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -Just as Alachua County was the first to defy state order with their mask mandate. The district is the first at a new federal funding stream meant to fill in the gaps from state-issued penalties.

“And really every role inside the school has been challenged by this pandemic,” said Biden administration Senior Policy Advisor for Education, Mary Wall.

Wall confirmed Alachua county’s application for federal dollars under the “Project to Support America’s Families and Educators” or Project SAFE, is the first approved. The idea was born from pushback as a number of Florida school districts face state penalties for following CDC COVID-19 guidelines.

RELATED STORY: Alachua County Superintendent, Board Chair relieved by $147K federal grant, addresses new state COVID-19 protocols

District staff was ready to meet the new program’s criteria which includes not only proof of COVID-19 precautions consistent with the CDC, but also show financial penalties placed by the state for following the guidelines. Only two requirements keep school districts from receiving federal funds through a new nationwide program.

“We want to make sure that we can move quickly,” added Wall.

The program launched just two weeks ago as a part of President Biden’s COVID-19 action plan. Although, it’s funded through Emergency Elementary and Secondary Act money— separate from American Rescue Plan funds.

“State by state, this will be different and so the department will evaluate these applications as they come in,” said Wall. “There’s no clear, there is no universal example of how this works. Alachua is the first one but we will continue to evaluate as they come in.”

RELATED STORY: Florida Department of Health rule allows parents to opt students out of COVID quarantines, ACPS will not change policy

Through an application process, a school district can receive the exact amount withheld from state officials plus more.

“As districts apply for this funding they’ll have to submit a budget. They’d also have to submit an application that would indicate how a financial penalty has been levied on them. And so it would be a case by case basis in terms of an award for a school district and we want to make sure that it’s tailored just to the specific needs of that individual school district.”

Once a school district is approved for funds, its kept on review by the education department. In the case of Alachua County and the more than $147,000 received, this means making sure the district continues to follow CDC COVID-19 guidance.

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