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Biden administration offers aid to Florida schools defying DeSantis order

The Biden administration is stepping in to offer financial assistance to Florida educators defying Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) law banning local K-12 mask mandates.

Why it matters: The battle over mask mandates in schools has been brewing for weeks. DeSantis recently threatened to withhold pay from superintendents and school board members who go against DeSantis' ban.


The backdrop: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last month recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status.

  • Texas and Florida are among the states barring masking requirements in schools, but several Florida districts have flouted the law, citing COVID concerns.
  • The Education Department is now offering to pay the salaries of Florida school board members who stand to lose state funds as a result.

What they're saying: School districts that lose state funding for enacting local safety measures can pull from federal relief dollars, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a letter to DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Friday.

  • DeSantis' attempts to bar schools from enforcing mask mandates is "deeply" concerning given recent spikes in cases, Cardona said. It "puts students and staff at risk."
  • "The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction," Cardona wrote. Local school leaders should be able to determine their own rules based on their own assessments.
  • "We are eager to partner with [the Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators," Cardona added, warning that his agency will work with school districts directly if need be.

DeSantis maintains it should be up to parents to decide whether their child wears a mask.

  • On Friday, his spokeswoman Christina Pushaw criticized the White House for choosing to spend funds "on the salaries of superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, than on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for," per Politico.

The big picture: The Delta variant has hit Florida particularly hard in recent weeks, with the state setting a new record in daily cases last week.

What to watch: Florida parents, including those of students with disabilities, have filed legal challenges against DeSantis' order.

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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