Melissa Mellor

Answers to Your Top Six Shutdown Questions

The U.S. government shut down this morning because Congress was unable to pass a bill to fund federal programs as the new fiscal year begins. This week's Capitol Connection cuts through the politics and brinkmanship to outline what a shutdown means for the nation's students, educators, and schools.

1. What's the bottom line for schools and districts? How would a government shutdown affect daily operations?

Most schools and districts are unlikely to feel immediate effects of a shutdown because the advanced funding nature of federal education spending means that states and districts have already received much of their federal funding for the school year. In addition, the vast majority of school funding (about 90 percent) comes from state and local sources. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education awarded dozens of competitive grants in the past several days so the awards would not be held up by a shutdown.

2. Will any education programs be affected in the short term?

Head Start (which provides early childhood education to low-income families) and Impact Aid (which helps fund school districts that cannot fully rely on local tax revenue, such as those on military bases or tribal lands) depend heavily on federal dollars that are not necessarily distributed at the beginning of the school year. Thus, these programs could experience more acute and immediate shutdown consequences. This is especially concerning because Head Start and Impact Aid have already deeply felt the effects of sequestration. More than 50,000 children have lost access to Head Start and many districts that receive Impact Aid have been forced to eliminate positions and programming because of sequestration.

3. But I’ve heard about furloughs at the U.S. Department of Education. What effect could those have on local schools and districts?

Ninety percent of the department's more than 4,000 employees will be furloughed during a government shutdown, leaving just a skeleton crew to address schools' and districts' questions and concerns. Grant processing will lapse and questions will probably go unresolved for the duration of the shutdown. In addition, contract approvals will likely be delayed. See the department’s shutdown plan, which outlines its strategies for minimizing the effect of a shutdown.

4. How will the shutdown affect the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization?

With few congressional staff at work during the shutdown, no progress on ESEA reauthorization will be made. Moreover, all discussions and negotiations among members of Congress will focus on fiscal issues instead of education. Meanwhile, the minimal staff at the Department of Education will delay decisions on pending ESEA waivers.

5. How will the shutdown end?

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.

6. What does it mean for schools when the government reopens?

Department of Education staff will face a backlog of work once the shutdown ends, so schools should expect delays in responses to their questions or requests for information. Any short-term 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. 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.

Capitol Connection will continue to follow all the action and provide you with the most relevant information.

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