Policy & Finance > Federal Education Policy

What does federal shutdown mean for California education?



CongressFederal money for education will continue to flow into California, with some caveats, even with the government shutdown.

The big-ticket federal education programs in California – $1.8 billion a year for low-performing schools and $1.4 billion a year for special education – will be unscathed, according to a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Education. Those programs, along with grants for Career and Technical Education, would be deemed “a necessary exception” to a spending halt and would receive their scheduled Oct. 1 funding distribution, the federal department said.

Less clear is the potential impact on the California Department of Education itself, which is scheduled to receive $166 million in federal funds for operations in 2013-14, primarily for salaries, said Edgar Cabral, a fiscal and policy analyst with the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. The federal money, which makes up 77 percent of the department’s $214 million operating budget, is distributed in July and October, said Cabral, which means the state department already received a significant chunk of the salary funding. With a federal shutdown, the October funding for payroll could be temporarily stalled, depending on the distribution date.

“There wouldn’t necessarily be a problem at least in the short term, but if (the shutdown) goes on for a longer period of time, it could be a problem,” Cabral said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said that the impact on California education would likely be limited because many federally funded programs have already received this year’s appropriation. But he added, “However, some funding, including support for the Child Development Block Grant, which provides child care services for poor families, and Impact Aid Grants, which benefit the children of military families, could both be affected within days. Sadly, the first people affected by a shutdown will likely be some of the people who can least afford it – young children, students, and low-income families.”

The key to surviving a federal government spending halt is to be a program that is “forward funded,” meaning that the program generally receives its money in advance, and to be an entitlement, meaning that the state is entitled to that funding by law. The two largest federal expenditures in California education – Title I grants for academic support for low-performing schools and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act grants for special education – are forward-funded entitlements, which is why they will remain unscathed.

They are also considered essential. “The department believes that any delay in obligating these funds could, in some cases, significantly damage state and local program operations,” the federal memo said.

The California Department of Education payroll is also funded in advance, but didn’t make the list of exceptions to be funded in case of a shutdown.

Among the programs at risk from a lengthy shutdown are Head Start for preschool children, the National School Lunch Program and smaller federal programs such as Impact Aid given to districts that serve children of military families. For Head Start programs, a shutdown means that no new Head Start grants would be awarded. Because Head Start grants are given in various funding cycles, programs expecting to receive a grant in October would be out of luck during the shutdown, but no Head Start programs in California receive grant renewals in October, said Rick Mockler, executive director of the California Head Start Association.

The National School Lunch Program, which funds meals at schools including breakfast, lunch, after-school snacks and in some cases dinner, reimburses school districts after a month’s worth of meals are served. “There are sufficient balances to cover the month of October,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said. “It’s uncertain after that.”

Unknown is the potential impact on the many smaller federal programs that support education in the state.

“A lot of these programs are supplemented by state and local funds,” said Melissa Loeb, senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Federal Funds Information for States. “They could still continue, but no new federal funds would be available. The longer that goes on, the more resources they would be using.”

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