New Website Posting Requirements Under § 160.066, RSMo.

During the 2018 legislative session, a bill was passed that placed new requirements on school districts for posting budget information on district websites in a searchable format. This bill was codified in § 160.066, RSMo. While the statute technically is already in effect, its requirements do not have to be met until September 1, 2019. Still, we have seen a lot of discussion among administrators regarding exactly how to meet the requirements of the new law, and DESE recently published information in an effort to provide more direction on this issue. However, there is a caveat contained in the new law that is not mentioned in DESE’s guidance and can significantly ease the administrative burden on districts. The law allows for districts to post a direct link to DESE’s website rather than including the required information on the district’s website.

Section 160.066, RSMo., specifically requires that school districts:

develop, maintain, and make publicly available, at a minimum, a searchable expenditure and revenue document or database detailing actual income, expenditures, and disbursements for the current calendar or fiscal year on its district or school website, which may be in the format of a searchable PDF, document, or spreadsheet.

While most districts already include their budget information on the district’s website, this raises the burden of doing so by requiring more detailed information about actual revenue, expenditures and disbursements, and also requires that the information be in a searchable format. For many districts, especially smaller and rural districts, this can present a huge administrative burden in not only getting the information on to the website, but also in keeping the information updated – especially since the law requires that the information be updated quarterly and kept for a minimum of 10 years.

As we said though, one part of § 160.066 that has been overlooked is the provision that states that districts can instead provide a direct link to DESE’s website. This part of the statute specifically states:

If the public school district or charter school does not provide the aforementioned detailed financial and budgetary information on its website, then a direct link to the department of elementary and secondary education’s website, which has detailed financial and budgetary information about the public school district or charter school, shall be provided on the district’s website.

As you can see then, rather than posting the information on the district’s website, a district can simply provide a link to DESE’s website. This will save districts the time and cost of posting and maintaining this information on its own website.

What is not as clear though is the requirement for updating the information. Section 160.066.2 states:

The public school district or charter school shall, to the extent practicable, update the financial data contained on the site no less frequently than every quarter and provide the data in a structured format.  The public school district or charter school shall archive the financial data, which shall remain accessible and searchable, for a minimum of ten years.

(emphasis added). This raises the question of what is exactly meant by “on the site”. Does it apply to both the district’s website and DESE’s website, or only when the district maintains the information on its own website?

Our interpretation of the plain language of the statute, and looking at the requirement from a practical perspective, is that this would only apply if the district maintains the information on its own website. If the district instead posts a link to DESE’s website, then the district would not have the ability to update the information on DESE’s website directly. The district will have no control over DESE’s website, and therefore will lack the ability to update the information every quarter. The best that can be done would be to provide the updated information to DESE. It would then be DESE’s responsibility to put the updated information on its website. However, because the district will not be able to load the information onto DESE’s website, the requirement to update the information on the site can only apply when the district posts the information on its own website.

It is possible that DESE will have a different interpretation of the update requirements. If that happens, then the most likely outcome will be that DESE will provide a template for districts to use to update their information and then require that the completed template be sent to DESE every quarter. Practically speaking then, even if DESE requires a certain template be used and completed quarterly, districts can still ease their administrative burden in complying with § 160.066 by only including a link to DESE’s website instead of trying to maintain and update the financial information on the district’s website. While a district will still have to gather the relevant information, it will not have to go through the process of loading that information onto its own website and maintaining it. Because of this, we recommend that districts utilize the ability to provide a link to DESE’s website, rather than trying to post and maintain the information on the district’s website.

If you have any questions about how to keep your district in compliance with the new requirements under § 160.066, RSMo., please feel free to contact us.