TAMPA (WFLA) – The U.S. Department of Education awarded its first grant under the new Project to Support America’s Families and Educators program. 

The $147,719 grant was awarded Thursday to Alachua County’s school board.

Alachua County is one of two Florida counties to have state funding stripped over its mask orders. The Florida Board of Education voted unanimously to punish Alachua and Broward counties after mandating masks in schools.

Project SAFE program was announced as part of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan to combat coronavirus and safely reopen schools for in-person learning.

“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “We stand with the dedicated educators in Alachua and across the country doing the right thing to protect their school communities, and with today’s first-ever award under Project SAFE, we are further enabling educators to continue that critical work.”

With the Project SAFE grant funds, Alachua County Public Schools will be able to stabilize district staffing and compensation levels necessary to keep CDC recommended strategies in place and to promote student safety for its nearly 30,000 students.

“Students deserve the opportunity to return to school in-person safely this fall, and our nation’s superintendents must have not only the authority to make the decisions about what that reopening looks like, but also freedom from unnecessarily political and punitive retaliation from their state leaders,” said Dan Domenech, the executive director of American Association of School Administrators. “Superintendents bear the ultimate responsibility and accountability for those decisions, and AASA will always support the leadership decisions of superintendents on behalf of their districts, students, and staff. We applaud Project SAFE in its work to support school districts where leaders are making the best decisions for their students, staff, and community despite objectionable state obstacles.”

The Florida Department of Education said it will withhold state funds on a monthly basis “an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board members who voted to impose the unlawful mask mandates until each district demonstrates compliance.”