JEFFERSON CITY — State funding for public schools is dependent on attendance. What happens when those schools close?
That’s the question on lawmakers’ minds as schools across the state suspend and cancel classes to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, is set to propose an amendment to the FY20 supplemental budget to help support schools that make the choice to close. Under his amendment, schools would not lose state funding as a result of early closures or a move to online instruction during the state of emergency caused by COVID-19.
“That’s the last thing that they need to be worried about at this time,” Kendrick said. “If it helps school districts across the state focus on what really matters about making this decision, then that’s one less burden that they have. That will help them reach the right conclusion quickly.”
Kendrick anticipates it will be impossible to count attendance as schools close; instead, he thinks funding requirements will revert back to estimated daily attendance or use attendance numbers from the 2018-2019 school year. He said the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working with school districts to get online education portals up and provide other resources to school districts unable to transition to online instruction.
“I’ve had very good conversations with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” Kendrick said. “They continue to work very long hours to think through and address the complexities of school closures and the very real possibility that school closures now could very well mean closures through the remainder of the school year.”
Those complexities include factors, like feeding kids who rely on school provided meals and continuing their education.
“(School officials) are also having to grapple with the reality that if a school closure continues through the end of the academic year and into summer, there will be major regression in student learning ... , which will be reflected in testing for years to come, likely,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick said the federal government sets the mandated testing deadlines, but he feels confident that they will ease the May 22 deadline.
He also anticipates bipartisan support for the amendment. Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted his support of continuing funding to closed schools.
“Given the uncertainty of the #COVID19 trajectory over the next several weeks, I will use all the resources at my disposal to ensure schools are fully funded regardless of any decision they make to close or suspend classes,” Rowden said in the tweet.
Kendrick acknowledged school districts have a lot to think about but stressed the need to look at the bigger picture.
“I encourage school districts across the state, across the country to act quickly to slow the spread and flatten the curve as much as possible,” Kendrick said. “If we don’t flatten the curve, our health care system will be overrun and it will have a much bigger impact on our society.”