The Biden administration's threat to take back Arizona's COVID-19 funding for not forcing compliance on school mask mandates has been met with a stern response from state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Axios reported Wednesday.
"We will not be intimidated by the heavy hand of the Biden administration forcing Arizona to comply with ambiguous and unrealistic national standards created and 'enforced' by federal bureaucrats," Brnovich wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
Brnovich was calling out acting Deputy Chief Compliance Officer Kathleen Victorino's threat on COVID-19 funding if Arizona will not "conform certain educational policies."
Arizona's Education Plus-Up Grant Program provides $163 million in funding to schools, but districts that require face coverings are ineligible. And its COVID-19 Educational Recovery Benefit Program provides for up to $7,000 for parents if their child's school requires face coverings or quarantines after exposure.
It lets parents use the money for private school tuition or other education costs, and its design mirrors the state's existing school voucher program.
In a Friday letter, the Treasury Department warned the state has 60 days to remove the anti-masking provisions before the federal government moves to recover COVID-19 relief money, and it threatened to withhold the next tranche of aid as well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal mask-wearing in school settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"By discouraging families and school districts from following this guidance, the conditions referenced above undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19," the Treasury Department wrote in a letter to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. "Accordingly, these school programs as currently structured are ineligible uses of (Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds)."
The state attorney general formally responded to Yellen in Wednesday's letter.
"Madam Secretary, the states created the federal government, not the other way around," it read. "Unfortunately, members of the Biden Administration have continuously ignored this fundamental principle of our great nation when proposing and enacting bureaucratic mandates and harmful regulations upon individual states.
"Other states and state officials may not push back against federal overreach, but rest assured, my office will fight every day to defend Arizona's sovereignty and the cherished constitutional liberties of our constituents."
The letter noted the state and parents should "govern how our children are educated."
"It shouldn't surprise anyone that the U.S. Department of Treasury, under your leadership, is again trying to overstep its constitutional bounds and dictate to Arizona how our state should run and fund our schools," it continued. "Arizonans believe that educational policies are best set locally, and that parents should control the policies and curriculum that govern how our children are educated.
"We believe that Washington, D.C., must respect the Ninth and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, allowing states to govern the issues not delegated to the federal government."
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment, but Brnovich vowed to sue the Biden administration if its threat to the governor was not rescinded.
"We call on the U.S. Department of the Treasury to rescind its Jan. 14th letter and threats to withhold funds from Arizona," the letter concluded. "If it does not, our office is ready to take appropriate action in the courtroom to defend our state from this blatant federal encroachment."
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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