JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Help for roughly 100,000 teachers whose Social Security numbers were made vulnerable in a massive state data breach could cost Missouri as much as $50 million, House budget officials told Democratic lawmakers Tuesday.
Budget officials, who said they got the information from Republican Gov. Mike Parson's administration, told House Democrats in emails that the estimate would cover the cost of credit monitoring and a call center to help affected teachers.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch broke the news about the security flaw last week. The newspaper said it discovered the vulnerability in a web application that allowed the public to search teacher certifications and credentials.
Parson, who has deflected his administration's responsibility for the breach and instead cast blame on the newspaper for identifying the issue and warning the education department about it, last week said the breach “may cost Missouri taxpayers as much as $50 million and divert workers and resources from other state agencies.”
He declined to answer questions after slamming the Post-Dispatch in a livestreamed press conference last week. Despite previously telling reporters that the administration would answer follow-up questions following the press conference, Parson's spokeswoman has declined to break down the $50 million cost estimate or provide any additional details about the breach.
“Due to an ongoing investigation, I cannot comment any further than what has already been made public,” spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in a Friday email.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating the data breach.
Neither the Office of Administration's Office of Budget and Planning nor Parson's spokeswoman immediately responded to Associated Press requests for comment Tuesday on the House Budget Office's explanation of the $50 million price tag.
“During his tirade last week against the free press, Governor Parson strongly implied the state’s investigation and prosecution of a Post-Dispatch reporter would cost Missouri taxpayers $50 million,” Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth said in a statement.
Merideth said Democratic lawmakers' inquiry to Parson's administration instead found that most of the estimated $50 million would pay for “credit monitoring for teachers put at risk by the state’s mistake.”
He called that a "much worthier endeavor than bullying a reporter who did the right thing by bringing this issue to light.”