Some health experts predict a spike in coronavirus cases this fall – putting Missouri K-12 public schools in a potential funding dilemma. Missouri’s foundation formula – the system used to determine how much state aid to give to schools – is based on a combination of components, including student attendance figures and academic achievement.

Missouri works to avoid K-12 funding decline from coronavirus inflicted attendance drop

During Tuesday’s Missouri Board of Education meeting, members discussed how to avoid a drop in school funding as a result of possible coronavirus related attendance problems. President Charlie Shields, a former Missouri Senate president, thinks the state Legislature could be called back in September for a special session.

“So, should we ask the governor to put a couple things in play? One would be to figure out the attendance piece. We’ve got different scenarios for snow days and all kinds of other things, but nobody had one for COVID-19,” he says. “It would give us the flexibility to do something on attendance in terms of the formula. The other would be this issue if you withhold across the board, including hold harmless, during the emergency, that you don’t have to make that up somewhere throughout the rest of the fiscal year. Do we ask the governor to put that in his call for a special session to clarify those issues for us?”

The General Assembly returns each September to weigh whether to attempt an override of any vetoes the governor makes to bills passed during the regular session. A special session directly before or after a veto session is an efficient way to handle issues that some elected officials and stakeholders feel are urgent.

Deputy Commissioner Roger Dorson says state funding is given to schools on an annual basis. He indicates if the economy rebounds in a few months, then a potential legislative fix should take that scenario into consideration.

Commissioner Margie Vandeven says the health of students comes first – not perfect attendance.

“We will be asking parents to keep their children home if they are ill,” says Vandeven. “And we will be asking parents to keep their children home for symptoms that they may not have ever kept them home for in the past. So we expect to see a significant decline in attendance data, at the request of health officials and of school officials to say ‘Keep your children home.’ That’s one thing. The other thing we have never encountered before is, let’s suspect you have to quarantine an entire class, or an entire bus – just be thinking in terms of this could be 14 days. So, the way we’re trying to think about how to get this attendance waiver or whatever we need is to say ‘Should children stay home if they’re ill – yes. Should we stop talking about perfect attendance as the banner award for this year – yes.’”

Vandeven says the state must also figure out how to ensure that students can continue learning from home if they are quarantined.

Meanwhile, a new state statute requires Missouri K-12 public school districts to start 14 days prior to Labor Day or later, unless the state Board of Education waives the regulation. Some school districts have expressed an interest in starting the school calendar year earlier in the fall to beat an anticipated climb in coronavirus cases.

The board has given the education commissioner temporary power to let districts start earlier in August if they make the request and meet certain requirements. Local school boards must first hold a public hearing and explain how an exemption would benefit the students and reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

The following districts have asked to start earlier in August:

• East Newton Co. R-VI
• Lutie R-VI
• Weaubleau R-III
• Community R-VI
• Joplin Schools
• Hickory Co. R-I
• Tri-County R-VII
• Carthage R-IX

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is reviewing the requests.

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