At 12 midnight on Monday, September 30, the U.S. Government will shutdown unless the Senate and House can agree on how to fund the Government. This brief update will tell you why a shutdown could happen and what it could mean for education funding.
Why Is a Government Shutdown a Possibility? The Senate and House are arguing over whether to fund the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The House has passed a bill called a continuing resolution that funds the government but takes away funding for the ACA. The Senate plans to send the bill back to the House but include funding for the ACA. Congress has until September 30 to work this out or the government shuts down.
Is This How the Budget Process Is Supposed to Work? No. The President and Congress are required to decide every year how to fund the government. The basic process is that the President submits a budget to Congress, which then passes a budget resolution. After the passage of the resolution, the Senate and the House work out 12 appropriations bills that execute the budget. These bills fund various parts of the government. If all goes well, the President signs these bills into law.
In recent years, this process has broken down completely. Instead of appropriations bills, Congress has tried to use continuing resolutions, which are stop-gap measures that just continue funding levels as they are.
What Happens to Education Funding if the U.S. Government Shuts Down? If the government shuts down, all non-essential government employees stop working. This includes the majority of employees at the U.S. Department of Education.
Because schools are generally operated at the local and state level, your local public school will most likely continue to operate and your child’s teachers will continue to work. However, schools will face difficult decisions as real time federal funding in certain areas such as Head Start (early childhood education) stops. For lump sum payments under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a government shutdown will cause extreme uncertainty going forward, with schools unable to plan for future expenses. All of this is on top of the damaging effects of cuts already caused by sequestration in the 2013–14 school year.
What Happens to Education Funding if the U.S. Government Does Not Shut Down? It’s not clear. Last year, the budget cutting process known as sequestration caused across-the-board cuts to funding for specific education, health and military programs. Special education IDEA funding was slashed by $579 million.
Sequestration continues for nine years, but this year, instead of across-the-board cuts, Congress determines funding for each program, including education. If Congress chooses to fund a program other than education at a level greater than sequestration allows, education could get cut further. In fact, some in Congress have proposed exactly this. We are working with supportive members of Congress to ensure that if a continuing resolution is passed, that education funding is at least maintained at current levels.
This Is Frustrating. What Can We Do? NCLD is taking the lead in Washington, D.C., pushing members of Congress to understand how important funding for education is for our future. We’ve asked you to take a survey telling Congress how budget cuts have affected your child and local school. This sounds like a small thing, but it’s a big deal—our experience shows us that Congress will respond to the stories of voters and to voters’ willingness to throw members out. We are also preparing an action alert when the time is right to defend your child’s right to an appropriately funded education. If you haven’t taken the 2013 budget survey, take it now. If you have taken the survey, please tell your friends and family. We need to fight for education funding.
Andrew M.I. Lee works as Web Editor for LD.org. He strives to make NCLD’s online content relevant, timely and compelling for all who seek to overcome challenges to learning. Andrew lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children.