The U.S. Education Department (ED) and other agencies continued to operate with only a skeleton staff through the December holidays after the second federal shutdown in as many months took effect Dec. 16.
ED ran out of money on that date after the expiration of the government’s latest short-term spending bill. Congress and the White House were unable to agree to an extension because it is tied to larger fiscal issues, including a debate on how to balance the federal budget within seven years.
The shutdown could leave some students out in the cold, particularly those who need — but have not yet received — aid for the spring 1996 semester.
If the impasse continues, the effects on education “are going to be very serious,” said Leo Kornfeld, a senior advisor to ED Secretary Richard Riley.
ED is processing loan applications, but they can not verify information on an applicant’s social security number, citizen status and past loan record because of shutdowns elsewhere in government, he said. The shutdown affects about 20,000 students per day.
This shutdown is different from the last one, which lasted only a few days, Kornfeld said. “If it just lasts a day or two, we can catch up,” he said. But a longer shutdown not only jeopardizes aid to more students but also prevents ED from finishing a new financial aid form for students who want to apply for aid for fall 1996, he added.
ED also suspended its efforts to collect on defaulted loans because of the shutdown, Kornfeld said.
Nonetheless, many ED programs are not in direct jeopardy because they are forward funded, which means their budgets do not conform to the government’s fiscal year. The government’s new fiscal year begins in October, whereas forward-funded programs do not need their new allocations until the following July.
The shutdown began because Republicans and President Clinton could not agree on a seven-year balanced budget plan. GOP proposals include deeper cuts in Medicare, welfare and education than President Clinton wants.
For his part, President Clinton has vowed to try to balance the budget within seven years but still provide $66 billion more for education during this timeframe.
Seeking a middle ground, Senate Republicans are pushing a plan to have all furloughed federal employees declared essential, allowing them to return to work at ED and other agencies while Congress and the White House continue negotiations. It was unclear before New Year’s Day whether the House of Representatives would agree to this request.
In the meantime, there is a serious “political price” to be paid with a shutdown, said Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, which represents more than 100 education organizations.
“It’s disappointing that we have to have interruptions in education programs to get a reasonable budget,” he said. Nonetheless, states and school districts could begin to feel the effects of the shutdown within a week because of a holdup in government funds and grants.
“States and schools may have to borrow money” during this period, Kealy said. Kornfeld agreed with this assessment, noting that colleges without “lines of credit” could find themselves short of funds.
The problem could intensify soon, Kealy said, since school districts and colleges soon will have to plan their 1996-97 budgets — possibly without the guarantee of continued federal support. “It’s going to start hurting,” he added.
RELATED ARTICLE: New Rule Proposed to Simplify Program
The U.S. Education Department (ED) published a proposal seeking to simplify rules in the Student Support Services program, part of the federal TRIO programs serving disadvantaged youth.
The changes would affect grantee accountability and requirements for past experience among grantees. The public can submit comments on the plans by Jan. 12, 1996 to Richard Sonnergen, Education Department, 600 Independence Ave. S.W., Washington, DC 20202-5249.
For more information, see the Dec. 13 Federal Register or contract: Virginia Mason, Division of Student Services, at (202) 708-4804.
RELATED ARTICLE: Shutdown Affecting Legislation
The federal shutdown is leaving other higher education issues on the back burner for now, including legislation to provide funding for financial aid programs.
The shutdown provided yet another obstacle for the Senate, which has yet to act on an Education Department funding bill already delayed by disputes over abortion and the use of replacement workers in labor strikes.
The lack of Senate action leaves only a House bill for ED that would eliminate small grants under the federal Pell Grant program The House bill raises the minimum Pell Grant from $400 to $600, thereby eliminating about 250,000 students who qualify for today’s smaller grants
“This provision would affect many.” said Edward Kealy, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding in Washington, D.C. Kealy said the House plan also provides about 17 percent less for education spending overall.
By comparison, the White House balanced budget plan still would leave enough room to raise the maximum Pell Grant to include more recipients and increase the maximum grant from the current $2,340 to $3,128 by the year 2002.
Not surprisingly, education advocates favor the president’s plan. The “best case” scenario for ED would be for Clinton and Congress to “get down to business but allow for more investment in education,” Kealy added.
The shutdown also leaves unresolved other issues such as a proposed consolidation of vocational education programs that could affect many youth.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives want to convert as many as 100 education and job training programs into block grants for states. The House and Senate each have approved separate bills, but a conference committee with representatives from both the House and the Senate must meet to resolve differences between the competing bills.
House and Senate aides have made “preliminary plans” for the conference, but action is not expected until 1996, an aide said.
The Senate bill would affect more than 80 programs. converting them into a three-part block grant. The House bill combines about 100 programs into three separate block grants, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act, the Job Training Partnership Act and new School-to-Work Opportunities Act are among the laws slated for consolidation under these proposals.
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