School-related implications of federal government shutdowns
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School-related Implications of Federal Government Shutdowns

This morning, the U.S. Senate is in the process of approving a short-term two week spending plan to end the three-day shutdown and reopen the federal government through Feb. 8 – the vote is expected in the next couple of hours. The continuing resolution will then go back to the House for its approval, meaning that the federal government is likely to resume its operations by tomorrow morning.

Today's vote comes after Senate leaders were unable to secure the 60 votes required to proceed to debate on a four week spending bill prior to Friday night’s deadline, leading to the shutdown – that Friday night vote failed mostly along party lines (50-49), but five Democrats voted with the Majority to move the temporary funding bill forward while four Republicans voted with the Minority.

There is a possibility that, if a deal is not reached on a long-term spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year by Feb. 8, another shutdown could occur.

What does this mean for California’s schools?

Federal government shutdowns mean that thousands of "non-essential" federal employees are placed on furlough. Based on past government closures, such as the one that occurred in 2013, this means approximately 90 percent of the U.S. Department of Education's 4,000 employees are not permitted, by law, to report to work or even answer e-mail from home. With most of the Department's staff on the sidelines, work such as finalizing approvals of State ESSA plans, grant implementations, and other enforcement activities would be delayed. Most federal formula funding for education (e.g., ESEA Title I-A), however, is not impacted by shutdowns unless the closure continues for several months. The major federal formula programs for education are forward funded, which means the funding for school year 2017-18 was approved last year as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations process.

While it is unlikely that any future stand-off would last long enough to jeopardize long term federal funding, if one occurs, states and districts working with the Department of Education on grants or other initiatives should expect delayed communications and action until Congress acts.

The 2013 shutdown lasted 16 days, and there were no significant or longstanding implications for California’s schools from that shutdown.