After months and months of short-term funding packages, time finally ran out. The Senate was unable to pass a continuing resolution before January 20 and because of this, the federal government has shut down for the first time since 2013.
Much of the impact K–12 education will face will depend on the length of the shutdown. Most education programs are forward funded, meaning dollars are already designated to go out to programs, regardless of a shutdown. However, the longer the shutdown, the greater the impact that will be felt by schools and districts. Overall, we can break down a shutdown’s impact into three main areas for K–12 education:
Staffing and Capacity at the Department of Education (ED): A shutdown longer than a week could have a drastic effect on ED’s ability to carry out its assigned duties. During the last shutdown, 90 percent of ED staff were furloughed during the first week. As noted in ED’s shutdown contingency plan, “A protracted 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 to support their services.” As summarized by Education Week, any districts seeking answers or actions from ED will see their requests greatly delayed. The department’s regional offices—which typically offer additional assistance to state education agencies—would be forced to shut down as well.
Impact Aid: Impact Aid provides federal dollars to local school districts that lose property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal property in the district, such as a military base or Native American reservation. Impact Aid is actually current-year funded, so any dollars given to these districts are doled out throughout the year. A short-term shutdown of a week or less would not produce many issues. However, Bryan Jernigan, a spokesman for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, notes that anything longer could be “potentially detrimental” for districts. He further noted that during the 2013 shutdown, some districts were even forced to seek loans from local banks to continue their usual operations.
Head Start: Programs that run through the federal preschool program for low-income children are awarded on the first of each month. Because of this, any shutdown that lasts beyond February 1 will have major impacts on the timing of the grants received for these programs. This could potentially lead to the inability to pay employees or a lapse in the program altogether.