Government Shutdown: How Would Educators Feel the Impact?

(Update: A deal was reached between President Obama and Congressional leaders late Friday night on a budget plan for the rest of the fiscal year that will avert a government shutdown.) Tricia Sardella, a classroom teacher, is just one of the tens of millions of Americans who would be affected by the looming shutdown of the federal government. Serdalla’s husband is a full-time crew chief for the Vermont Air National Guard. During a shutdown, he won’t be paid.

“My salary as a teacher will not support our family and we will get further left behind than we already are,” Sardella says. “We will be without his paycheck and that will hurt us tremendously …with three children to feed and bills to pay we will go through our small savings rather quickly. We depend on two paychecks.”

During the budget impasse that has gripped Capitol Hill, discussions about who and what will be affected most by a shutdown haven’t focused on education. Most programs will continue to run because they have received money from the federal government and can continue spending it. For example, students on free or reduced price meals will still receive them because they were funded through the end of the year, so reimbursements will continue.  There are a few exceptions, such as a delay in any new applications for federal aid, including Pell Grants for higher education, since the agencies that confirm Social Security numbers and eligibility would be unmanned.

Nonetheless, the economic security of educators like Sardella is a major concern, explains Jerald Newberry, Executive Director of the National Education Association’s Health Information Network.

“With no dollars coming in the door for period of time, the worry about first and most will be mortgages,” says Newberry. “School employees are barely able to pay them when full dollars are flowing in the door, but when a spouse loses income, it becomes very difficult.”

Many NEA members work in the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), a civilian agency that manages public schools on U.S. military bases around the world. These educators just received word that these schools will remain open during the shutdown and they will continue working. However, if the shutdown lasts past April 15, paychecks to these “excepted” employees will stop until the budget stalemate is resolved.

Manda Voth, who teaches on a military installation in Kansas, is concerned about her students who have parents in the military.

“All of the students in our school have one or both of their parents in the military, some of whom are in Iraq or Afghanistan right now. So they are fighting for our freedoms and not going to earn a paycheck? And in some cases both parents won’t be paid leaving our students and their families with zero income.”

Beyond immediate economic concerns, adds Newberry, just the anxiety and uncertainty alone can also take a serious toll.

“Will the government shut down? If so, for how long? Will I or my spouse get paid after it’s reopened, or will I lose that income? That uncertainty is very stressful.”