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VERIFY: Can Gov. Youngkin strip Virginia schools of state funding to enforce his executive order on masks?

The governor's spokesperson said he will use "the tools available."

RICHMOND, Va. — The issue of masks in Virginia schools has made it to the state Supreme Court. 13 parents in Chesapeake are suing to block that executive order. Gov. Youngkin said he'll take measures to force schools to follow his order, with some in his administration even suggesting he might hold back state funding from school districts that don't comply.  

RELATED: Gov. Youngkin's order makes mask-wearing optional at schools starting Jan. 24. These parents are all for it

The Question:

What does the governor need to do if he chooses to withdraw state funds from schools that defy the executive order on masks?

The Sources:

The Virginia Department of Education
Peter Meyers, law professor at George Washington University
Carl Tobias, law professor at University of Richmond

The Answer:

“It’s been dumped in the lap of the Virginia Supreme Court and we’ll see what the court does with that,” said Professor Tobias, “but it seems unlikely they will reach a decision by Monday.”

The governor's executive order allowing parents to opt-out of masks in schools is set to take effect Monday, Jan. 24. The administration has suggested school funding could be used as a bargaining chip: schools who do not follow the order could see their money taken away.

So how much are we talking?

According to the Department of Education, state funds are paid out twice a month.  Projected totals for the fiscal year 2022 for Northern Virginia schools are as follows:

• Fairfax County -- $817 Million

• Arlington County -- $85 million

• Alexandria -- $56 Million

• Prince William County -- $641 Million

The state funds represent about 20% on average of the above school budgets.

“I do not think that the governor, with his executive order, can supersede what the General Assembly said on this matter,” said Tobias.

Last summer, the Virginia General Assembly passed a statute requiring schools to follow the CDC guidance – which according to the latest information, recommends masks in schools. Tobias said any move to withhold state funding must go through the General Assembly first.

WUSA9 contacted the governor's office and spokesperson Macaulay Porter sent us this statement in response:

"Democrats willfully mischaracterized the Lieutenant Governor's comments to the press and played politics in an effort to delegitimize the rights of parents. This is the exact type of divisive partisan politics that Virginians rejected this fall. They still refuse to stand up for parents over their children's upbringing, education and care. The executive order allows parents to opt-out of mask mandates so that they can make the best decisions for their children and anyone who wants to wear a mask is free to do so. Consistent with the governor's past remarks, we will consider the tools available to make sure that parents' rights are protected.”

So, what other tools does the governor have at his disposal? Professor Myers from GWU weighs in on the matter.  “He can decertify the schools, take other actions to go to court to require schools with an injunction to follow his executive order," explained Myers.

But both men agree that until the Governor tells us exactly what he plans to do by Monday, parents and even legal experts are stumped.

RELATED: Loudoun County School Board votes to keep mask mandate in place despite governor's order

RELATED: Anxiety over school mask order in Virginia growing for parents

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