How Will the Government Shutdown Affect Education?

Shutdown 2013: The most boring episode of West Wing ever?

Shutdown 2013: The most boring episode of West Wing ever?

Update (10/5/2013): Several government run college search tools are down, and some students are experiencing financial aid troubles. Learn more here.

It’s official, folks: The United States federal government has shut down for the first time in nearly two decades. It’s like an episode of West Wing, only much more boring and lacking Martin Sheen.

For all the shouting matches of the past several weeks, the first day of the shutdown seems fairly calm. The world didn’t collapse, and even the stock markets seemed uninterested in Washington’s plight.

That may not last for long.

Our primary concern, of course, is whether and how the shutdown might affect our students. To that end, we’ve reviewed the Department of Education’s shutdown plan and followed the education punditry closely. Here’s what students and parents can expect from the government shutdown in the short term:

  • More than 90% of the Department of Education’s 4,225 employees stayed home today. The vast majority of these people will continue to sit at home watching sitcom reruns until the shutdown is over.
  • Federal education funding for the 2013 fiscal year (which technically ended at midnight last night) will continue to be dispersed on time through the rest of October.
  • Federal Pell Grants and student loans shouldn’t be affected, but programs like federal work study will be.

A short term shutdown may not affect schools or students noticeably. A long term shut down lasting several weeks or more is a whole different ballgame:

  • In addition to the 57,000 students already cut from Head Start by sequestration, 19,000 more students would lose access to the program.
  • Lack of personnel will lead to delays in processing grant applications for things like research by the National Institutes of Health, Head Start, and student financial aid.
  • Lack of personnel will also leave districts and schools without support for issues such as No Child Left Behind waiver implementation.
  • Furloughs will result in dwindling cash flow to districts and schools, resulting in financial headaches.

And it gets worse. Congress must vote to raise the debt ceiling by mid-October or the federal government won’t be able to pay its bills. Not only would this cut federal education funding, it would also have massive economic implications. When the economy suffers, local and state funding for schools – which has just recently begun to bounce back from the recent recession – is often the first thing on the budget chopping block.

In sum, a short term shutdown likely won’t have any major implications for education. A long term shutdown – or worse, a failure to raise the debt limit in time – could result in bureaucratic delays, economic troubles, and massive funding cuts.

Whether you agree with the shutdown or not, write to your Congressman and tell them what you think. After all, shutdown not withstanding, they’re still at work this week!

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