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Fact Check: Will Missouri schools lose funding for closing early over coronavirus?


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri schools will not lose funding for closing early over coronavirus concerns, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) confirmed. 

Amid a bevy of rumors on social media — and as concerns about the global pandemic rise — DESE sent guidance to public and charter schools late last week confirming basic formula payments will not be interrupted if student attendance is lower this year. Additionally, DESE said next year’s payments will be based on the district’s first or second preceding year’s average daily attendance (ADA).

“If a school closes or state employees’ operations are interrupted as a result of COVID-19, DESE is prepared to continue making school payments,” the letter, obtained by The Missouri Times, said.

DESE spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said no districts estimating a lower ADA remain open; therefore, there’s no district on track to actually lose money.

Local education agencies (LEAs) that are estimating ADA might need to make a correction next year when the actual attendance figures are known, the letter said.

DESE pointed to state statute which covers “an infectious disease, contagion, epidemic, plague, or similar condition” in its guidance to schools: 

“Whenever there has existed within the district an infectious disease, contagion, epidemic, plague or similar condition whereby the school attendance is substantially reduced for an extended period in any school year, the apportionment of school funds and all other distribution of school moneys shall be made on the basis of the school year next preceding the year in which such condition existed.”

As of Thursday morning, all 555 districts and charter schools have shuttered. DESE has encouraged LEAs to “seek the guidance and recommendation of local health officials” to decide if and when to close.

As for state testing, DESE noted Missouri is slated through May 22, but the department does have a contingency plan in place should that window need to be adjusted.

State Rep. Kip Kendrick, who has been an advocate for Missouri schools in the General Assembly amid the coronavirus pandemic, praised DESE for its work.

Whether schools would lose funding is “the last thing we want school districts to have to think through right now” as they grapple with students and faculty safety, Kendrick told The Missouri Times.

At least two dozen people in Missouri have tested positive for COVID-19 this month, and one individual in Boone County has died. Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency and has signed an executive order easing certain regulatory burdens on state agencies in order to better mitigate the effects and spread of coronavirus. 

Parson has left school closures up to the judgment of local districts, a decision that has been heavily criticized by Democrats across the state.

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There have been more than 7,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., and 97 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 300 people in Missouri have been tested. 

The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” while the disease is called “coronavirus disease 2019,” or “COVID-19.” It can cause severe respiratory illnesses with symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the CDC has warned.

The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has opened a public hotline operated by medical professionals around the clock seven days a week. The hotline number is 877-435-8411.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.