ARIZONA, USA — Editor's note: The above video aired during a previous broadcast.
The State of Arizona may have to repay the federal government millions of dollars if it doesn't fix two programs recently created to incentivize schools against implementing mask mandates, according to a letter from the federal Treasury Department.
The programs mentioned in the letter include a grant system that awards schools that don't implement mask mandates, and a voucher system, that funds the cost parents pay after relocating their child away from a school that has a mask mandate in place.
Gov. Doug Ducey's administration began both programs on Aug. 17. The governor's office did not respond to a 12 News request for the number of claims made in the school voucher program.
Both programs were created with millions of dollars in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act, Ducey's office has previously said. The funds were called the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF funds).
The Treasury Department letter said both programs are in violation of what states can use the SLFRF funds on.
‘"The purpose of the SLFRF funds is to mitigate the fiscal effects stemming from the COVID-19 public health emergency, including by supporting efforts to stop the spread of the virus," the letter said.
"A program...that would undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 or discourage compliance with evidence-based solutions for stopping the spread of COVID-19 is not a permissible use of SLERF funds."
If the governor's office does not let the Treasury know how it plans on fixing the programs in the next 30 days, Arizona may have to reimburse the federal government the money that the state handed out.
The governor's office issued a response to 12 News earlier today:
"We are reviewing the letter and will respond. While the Biden administration continues to focus on mandates, here in Arizona we trust families to make decisions around what's best for their children. Following the challenges during the 2020 school year, everyone's primary focus should be equipping families with the resources to get their kids caught up. That's exactly what this program does -- giving families in need the opportunity to access educational resources like tutoring, child care, transportation and more. It's baffling anyone would disagree with this approach."
The Treasury's letter is likely a direct response to a letter that Arizona State Rep. Greg Stanton sent to the Treasury last month asking Secretary Janet Yellen to look into Ducey's plan to deny federal COVID relief funds to schools that require masks.
See the full letter from the Treasury to Gov. Ducey here:
Arizona School Year 2021-22
With COVID-19 once again surging in Arizona, uncertainty looms over schools as they begin the 2021-22 school year. Watch the latest coverage on Arizona schools in our 12 News YouTube playlist here.