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Education Services Continue Through Government Shutdown... For Now

by Michael Higham, published

government shutdown education Credit: hxdbzxy /

There is not a clear indication of when the federal government and its functions will be fully reinstated. For the time being, employees who provide non-essential services (non-excepted in government terms) will be furloughed -- put on involuntary vacation without pay. Every department is affected, but how will public education services change?

Many services carried out by the Department of Education (DoE) are already set in motion. This means a short, temporary government shutdown will not have a lasting or notable effect on the functions of public education.

However, a shut down that extends to a few weeks and beyond will delay future administration of those services. The DoE may be short on employees to provide financial aid services, Head Start appropriations, and send grant monies to other education agencies.

The detrimental effects of a long-term shutdown can be seen in the size of the Education Department. It reduced its staff by 90 percent resulting in over 4,000 furloughed employees. There are currently 212 DoE employees carrying out the essential functions. If the shutdown lasts for at least two weeks, 30 more employees will be brought back.

The Department defines essential functions as:

[T]he obligation, payment, and support of student financial aid as well as other authorized payments and obligations.

(Read the Department of Education shutdown contingency plan here.)

Essential payments of $22 billion in Title I, special education, and career tech funds are already scheduled for the month of October. The essential employees retained by the DoE will ensure implementation.

Financial aid for college students will be appropriated on time without complications. However, services like work-study and financial aid consulting will not be available.

There is an unspecified amount of money that needs to be allocated for the competitive grant program Race to the Top by December 31. The shutdown is not expected to last that long, leaving enough time for employees to return and implement those funds.

Head Start, the early childhood education program for low-income families, would only have 23 of its 1,600+ programs experience an issue with a short-term shutdown. Those programs may continue through reserve funds or depend on delayed payments.

The impact of a short government shutdown is not drastic. But the level at which this is acceptable depends on how much trust is put in the federal government to agree on a long-term budget. If the governing factions continue to be uncompromising, public education will experience hitches. The few employees of the Education Department will be pushed to their limits to administer all its essential functions on time.

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