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Will the Government Actually Shut Down This Time? What Educators Should Know

The federal government is on the verge of shutting down again. If it feels like déjà vu, that’s because this same issue cropped up just a month-and-a-half ago—not to mention many times before that.

In most instances of looming fiscal chaos on Capitol Hill, lawmakers reach an agreement in the days or hours leading up to the deadline. But the threat of a federal government shutdown looms large regardless over many sectors of American life, including K-12 schools.

That’s because a federal shutdown would have an array of short- and long-term impacts on education. Funding streams for child care and school nutrition would dry up almost immediately. Collections of federal data that affect the resources schools receive would be in jeopardy. Most U.S. Department of Education employees, as well as thousands of other federal workers, would be furloughed.

Meanwhile, a long shutdown could prevent schools from receiving money they need to support students with disabilities, English learners, and other vulnerable groups.

Education observers probably don’t need to panic about a federal government shutdown every time the possibility of one arises. But it’s still worthwhile to know what to expect should the federal government actually shut down—as it has four times in the 21st century and 15 times in the last 50 years.

This time around, the government has funding through Nov. 17. That means Congress will need to send a bill this week to President Joe Biden’s desk that extends government funding, and the president would need to sign it.

Republicans are pushing to attach major spending cuts to any new funding bill, including to key education programs like Title I, while Democrats are staunchly opposed to such reductions. Republicans also would block expected Biden administration changes to Title IX that would add explicit protections for LGBTQ+ students to the federal anti-sex discrimination law.

This financial crisis also represents the first political test for Mike Johnson, who unexpectedly assumed the Speaker of the House role last month in the wake of the last shutdown fight.

Earlier today, Biden declined to say whether he would sign or veto House GOP leaders’ current funding proposal.

For more details on how K-12 education would be affected by a federal government shutdown, check out Education Week’s guide to the most recent shutdown threat, as well as past ones:

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