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Missouri Education Officials Tell K-12 Schools To Expect More Cuts Heading Into Next School Year

Missouri education officials are warning school districts that even deeper cuts to K-12 education are likely as the state tries to offset coronavirus losses.

Last week Gov. Mike Parson announced he was withholding $131 million from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or 39% of the June payment to schools. On Tuesday, Deputy Education Commissioner Roger Dorson told state board members he expects additional cuts when the fiscal year resets July 1.

“I think school districts need to probably look at something very similar at least to what was restricted in June to be restricted in July. I would be greatly surprised if it’s anything less than that,” Dorson said. “I would not be as surprised if it’s something a little more than that.”

So far, Parson has withheld $436 million. He has said COVID-19 could cost Missouri up to $700 million, though Dorson pointed out that there are some signs the economy is starting to recover.

“The thing about it is, if you restrict now, you can always pay that out if the economy turns around,” Dorson said.

Meanwhile, state education officials are preparing for what happens if schools have to close next year to slow the spread of COVID-19. Those closures are likely to be more targeted than the shutdown this spring, but they could still send entire classrooms of students home to quarantine for 14 days.

“We will be asking parents to keep their children home if they are ill,” state Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “We will be asking parents to keep their children home for symptoms they may not have ever kept them home for in the past. So we expect to see a significant decline in attendance at the request of health officials.”

That’s a big deal in Missouri, where attendance, performance and funding are inextricably linked. Vandeven said if kids are sent home to self-isolate, their parents should have them do schoolwork if they’re able to.

Dorson said a committee is trying to figure out how schools will make up days if they have to close for two weeks or more.

State education officials are also trying to figure out what types of remote learning will count for attendance purposes.

“We know how to count attendance if they’re in their seats. We know how to count attendance if it’s virtual,” Dorson said. “It’s those areas in between, like when some school districts sent out packets of information without a lot of student-teacher interaction. The law’s pretty clear that in order to pay state aid, there has to be some sort of instruction.”

That could end up being a big deal for districts like Kansas City, where internet access is an equity issue.

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