Education News

The government shutdown is affecting public education—and it can only get worse

By Amanda Litvinov

On Friday, the first day that 800,000 federal workers did not receive a paycheck, Fairfax County Public Schools held an event for furloughed workers to apply for positions as substitute teachers. Fairfax County, Virginia, is part of the Washington, D.C., metro area and a community that well over 50,000 federal employees call home.

Every one of the 200 event spots were reserved, prompting district leaders to arrange another event for this Friday.

Federal workers and supporters rallied against the shutdown in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 10.

Families headed up by federal workers have been the first to feel the effects of the partial government shutdown now in its fourth week, the longest shutdown in U.S. history. While an estimated 400,000 of those workers are concentrated around D.C., there are pockets of federal workers stationed all across the country.

Already, public schools are stepping up to help support local families. Some are offering to expedite applications for free or reduced-price lunches for the children of furloughed federal employees, while others are serving as a community hub, hosting events such as job fairs or a dinner for families most affected by the shutdown.

But if the stalemate over the federal budget drags on for months—as President Trump has suggested that it might—public schools, too, will suddenly find themselves on shakier financial ground.


First of all—deep breath—the bulk of federal funding for public schools is secure. Congress passed a  bill funding the Department of Education back in September, and the President signed the legislation. That ensures that major education programs, like Title I and IDEA, are funded through September 2019.

But Congress did not pass bills to fund all federal agencies.

The sticking point is President Trump’s demand that Congress provide $5.7 billion to build a new wall on our southern border—a wall he promised Mexico would pay for, not U.S. taxpayers. Trump recently threatened to bypass Congress, declare a national emergency, and build the wall with funds earmarked for disaster victims in Texas, California, Puerto Rico, and Florida. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the president is using “the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis.”

The House has passed multiple bills to reopen the government, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to allow senators to vote on them.

[Take Action: Urge your members of Congress to support reopening the government.] 

The shutdown is already affecting some college students and faculty, raising concerns that financial aid will be unavailable and critical research stalled.

Although the Department of Education is open and processing federal loans and grants like Pell Grants, 90 percent of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees are furloughed and the IRS website has been unavailable since the end of 2018. This means students can’t access their tax return transcripts, which are necessary for financial aid applications.

University of Maryland student Michelle Moraa told Teen Vogue that she had resorted to setting up a GoFundMe site to keep her in school this semester. Until college officials saw her story on local television and intervened, she had been thinking, “Alright, I might not go back to school, what’s my next step?”

Meanwhile, many faculty researchers rely on data and funding from federal agencies that are closed, like NASA, NOAA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). At the University of Florida (UF) alone, 1,075 research awards given by federal agencies to UF researchers have been affected by the shutdown, reports the Independent Florida Alligator.

The effects could be long-lasting, researchers fear, as the shutdown also has stalled graduate assistant hiring, which delays the next generation of innovation.



If the government shutdown continues several more weeks, it could cause acute financial problems for many rural schools.

The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) represents a commitment from Congress to help support communities on or near federal lands, such as national forests, that were removed from local tax rolls.

Rural counties rely on SRS funds, explains Jonathan Shuffield, Associate Legislative Director at the National Association of Counties.

“Local governments and schools rely on these programs to fund critical services, including education, infrastructure maintenance, search and rescue efforts on federal lands and law enforcement activities,” Shuffield said.

The next payments are set to go out in March, and funding is already in place. But unless staff at the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are back on the job soon, SRS checks could be delayed.

Delays in SRS funding—which rural schools have faced many times in recent years—force some districts to tap into reserves or make tough choices about which services or programs to cut until the SRS money comes through. Those cuts could affect more than 9 million students in 41 states.

The National School Lunch program, which provides 30 million students with a free or reduced-price lunch each school day, is funded through March.

If the shutdown continues into March, schools will face an unprecedented crisis: the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, which provide free and reduced-price meals for 30 million and 14.5 million children, respectively, will run out of funding.

Although it is one of the agencies affected by the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in late December that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—which helps more than 38 million Americans afford to eat—will be funded through February, and the school meals programs will be funded through March.

“If SNAP, school meals, WIC, and other USDA nutrition programs reduce or terminate benefits in the next few weeks, decades of progress in the fight against hunger will unravel and millions of Americans will face desperate levels of hunger,” said James D. Weill, president of the Food Research & Action Center, in a written statement.

“That alone is absolutely unacceptable. But the consequences go beyond hunger,” Weill said. “People’s health will worsen, hospital and health care costs will rise, students’ learning will suffer, food retailers will lose business, local economies will weaken, and huge numbers of jobs will be lost.”

It is unclear the extent of damage an extended shutdown could do to state economies. States provide, on average, 47 percent of school funding.

The nonpartisan National Governors Association, currently chaired by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, sent a letter on Jan. 7 urging Congress to re-open the government before federal workers endure any more hardship and before any further harm is done to state and local economies.

The National Education Association is asking public school supporters to join in efforts to urge members of Congress to quickly end this shutdown, whose impact is “is rippling all across America, hurting families, communities, and local businesses.”

18 responses to “The government shutdown is affecting public education—and it can only get worse

  1. Im sorry but you can get a job. You havent looked hard enough. Im not defending Trump by any means but to say you cant work because no one will hire you is a bunch of baloney. Its your job to feed your children. Quit stressing and start pounding the pavement because youre gonna need a job.

  2. Sad state of affairs, Trump got elected as president and no one understood what that meant for their future. I did. He is the person who gets to say “you’re fired” and you are no longer anyone to anyone, you have no worth because he said so. I tried to warn many people, he has no ethics. Have you studied what happened to his businesses in NJ and NY? There is a reason many people on his tv show aren’t heard from afterward. He is not the person we needed in office and now it is finally showing! Scary doesn’t even begin to cover it. He did cannot see the tree for the forest but he sure will when the forest burns and leaves 1 tree standing.

  3. I have to say that I didn’t vote for Trump because I thought that he would make a better business man than a president. This whole situation just proves that I was right. Trump is a very competitive person. That’s only one trait that a president should have, and competitiveness shouldn’t be the dominant trait in a president. A president should also be compromising. I am all for finding a way to eliminate undocumented immigrants from the US, but not at the expense of the welfare of American economy. There must be another way to start taking steps to eliminate this concern without continuing to “shoot ourselves in the foot” by dragging this shutdown out any farther.

  4. Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer,
    $5.7 billion of a $4 trillion+ budget is kind of like an average couple going out to an expensive restaurant for dinner and then arguing over whether to drink iced tea or spring for a bottle of wine. This is ridiculous! Let President Trump have the “bottle of wine” and reopen the government.

    1. You’re talking about 5.7 billion like it’s $60. You clearly don’t know the value of a dollar, and don’t care where your tax money is spent. That money should be going to bettering this country for our children, not a testament to one man’s ignorance and insecurity. Why not fight for the 5 billion to go to education?

  5. Please end the Federal Shutdown-Mr.Trump there are more efficient ways to regulate our southern boarder! A wall is not the end all! People will find a way to get around the existing wall-a replacement wall does not end the immigration of intensely desperate people or violent criminals. Separating parents and children- simply not a good choice! I work in an area that has many hungry children – I want them to be fed so they can learn to realize there are other choices besides crime to survive!

  6. Speaker Pelosi,

    Despite your idealistic beliefs, please look towards the 9 million students you are affecting. If your kid was in this position, I’m sure you wouldn’t like his or her education at stake.

    Thank you.

    1. Speaker Pelosi can not give in to Trump on this because we do not negotiate with terrorists or hostage takers for the simple reason that once you all them to win using these tactics they will use them again.

      Speaker Pelosi has done her part. She has sent several bills to the senate that will open the government. The Senate has refused to vote on the bills. Your plea and request should be forwarded to Mitch McConnel instead.

  7. To me I thought living in the United State’s of America you r free of racism I was raised to love everyone no matter where u come from the color of your skin what u believe in I taught my children that we may look different on the outside we r all the same in the inside and I bet a lot of u taught your children the same thing I think the president of our country should believe that everyone is welcome in the USA no matter who u r and putting and separating family’s in prison camps because of who they r is dumb it’s telling our children that it’s Ok to hate some people just because they r not from this country I hope the children of the future don’t think like Trump does WE DON’T NEED THIS WALL SO GROW THE F UP TRUMP AND OPEN THE GOVERNMENT SO ALL THE WORKERS CAN GET PAID!!! I think we should Impeach president Donald Trump so we can have AMERICA Great again!!!!!!!

  8. Dear Trump,
    You have began ruining the country since u came into office….the award for worst person on the planet goes to… DONALD TRUMP…I hope you know that your not a good president and that you don’t know what your doing. Honestly I have always hated you before you decided to run and I will never change my feelings you need to grow up and stop acting like a 2year old over a damn wall act your age not your IQ. if you want the wall built that bad use your Legos since you act like a child

  9. Mr.Trump,

    Despite your idealistic beliefs, please look towards the 9 million students you are affecting. If your kid was in this position, I’m sure you wouldn’t like his or her education at stake.

    Thank you.

  10. My son is on the school lunch program and we are snap we need this shutdown to end because it’s effecting alot of people an children. I pray that they would just come to a conclusion with this shutdown because all its doing is stressing me out because I can’t a job because nobody will hire me an I depend on wic for my youngest that’s just fixing to turn 1on the first of February and my 6 year old that’s fixing to be 7 on March 21st. This government shutdown needs to end. Both sides need to sit down and talk about reopening the government

    1. Im sorry but you can get a job. You havent looked hard enough. Im not defending Trump by any means but to say you cant work because no one will hire you is a bunch of baloney. Its your job to feed your children. Quit stressing and start pounding the pavement because youre gonna need a job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *