by Melissa Mellor, ASCD Public Policy
On the first day of the first government shutdown in 17 years, 800,000 federal workers are at home without pay, with no indication of when they’ll return to work and no guarantee that they’ll receive back pay for the duration of their furloughs. We got to this point because Congress failed to pass a bill to fund federal programs for the new fiscal year, which begins today.
Fortunately, most schools and districts are unlikely to feel immediate effects of a shutdown because states and districts have already received much of their federal funding for the 2013–14 school year. Some programs like Head Start and Impact Aid could experience more acute and immediate shutdown consequences, however, because they depend heavily on federal dollars that may not have been distributed yet.
Here are the ASCD policy team’s key takeaways and behind-the-scenes details about what a shutdown means for the nation’s students, educators, and schools.
Ninety percent of the U.S. Department of Education’s more than 4,000 employees and a large percentage of congressional staffers have been furloughed, leaving just a skeleton crew to address schools’, districts’, and constituents’ questions and concerns.
Furloughed workers are required to turn in their devices and refrain from doing work and answering e-mails, which means grant processing will lapse, contract approvals will be delayed, progress on Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization will flounder, and many questions will go unresolved for the duration of the shutdown. See the department’s shutdown plan, which outlines its strategies for minimizing the shutdown’s effect.
Health and nutrition services for children and families will be largely unaffected by the shutdown.
Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment benefits will continue to flow, although there could be some delays in processing new applications. The Child Nutrition Programs, including School Lunch and School Breakfast, will continue operations throughout the month. However, a longer-term shutdown could threaten the federal government’s ability to reimburse state expenditures. In addition, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will continue operations and eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October.
The more than 14 million students who receive student aid through Pell Grants and Direct Student Loans will continue to receive their money.
However, campus-based aid programs, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and Federal Work-Study, will see funding lapses.
A protracted shutdown would have significant ripple effects on schools.
The department’s shutdown plan contends that a delay in department obligations and payments beyond one week would “severely curtail the cash flow to school districts, colleges and universities, and vocational rehabilitation agencies that depend on the Department’s funds to support their services.” The department foresees delays in awarding competitive and formula grants. Federal workers will face a backlog of work once the shutdown ends, so schools should expect delays in responses to their questions or requests for information.
An end to the government shutdown will not mean an end to the bleak fiscal landscape for schools.
The shutdown will end once Congress passes a bill funding the government and the president signs it. The bill could extend funding for as long as a year or it could provide funding for a much shorter amount of time. If Congress passes a short-term solution, it will create a similar situation to the one we are currently in and will require passage of additional deadline-driven solutions to keep the government running.
Regardless of the solution’s duration, any spending bill approved by Congress is likely to fund education programs at current FY13 levels, which already reflect a 5 percent cut because of sequestration. And the bill would be the latest in a series of short-term funding agreements that have failed to increase funding for schools, and instead, have cumulatively chipped away at the federal investment in education. Even worse, schools and districts should prepare for another round of across-the-board sequestration cuts, which are slated to take effect in January if Congress doesn’t intervene. A mid-October congressional showdown over the federal debt ceiling only adds to the uncertainty.
It’s imperative that educators not only stay informed about these federal education issues but also become involved.
Unless you speak up and tell your federal lawmakers how sequestration is affecting your students, school, and district, federal investments in education will continue to shrink and you’ll be expected to do more with less.
Sign up for Capitol Connection to receive timely updates on the shutdown, sequestration, and other important education issues and to take advantage of opportunities to contact your lawmakers and make a difference. Also, register for ASCD’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy to hear from national education leaders on current education policy issues and learn how to advocate for policies that support successful learning and teaching.
Melissa Mellor is ASCD’s manager of public policy outreach. In this role, she works to promote whole child policies at the state level and helps ASCD members advocate for better education policy. Prior to joining ASCD in 2007, Mellor worked on high school redesign issues at the Council of Chief School Officers and researched states’ teacher quality policies at the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.