Education Opinion

Students Suffer When Government Shuts Down

By Matthew Lynch — October 07, 2013 3 min read
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There has been a lot written about the plight of federal workers who are currently furloughed because of the government shutdown that became official on October 1. If I stopped receiving my paycheck, I’d be angry too and certainly worried about my finances. But with all due respect to federal workers, there is another group of people who is suffering from the historic government lack of compromise: students.

I talk a lot about the way that mobile technology enhances instruction and how diversity in the classroom benefits every student. I still stand by my convictions in those regards but those learning advancements only work if students are actually in the classroom. Federally funded programs like Head Start have been forced to close their doors because of lack of funding under the shutdown.

In Florida alone, 19,000 3 and 4-year-old children have been impacted by Head Start programs closing their doors and nine other states are impacted too. Since 1965, the Head Start program has been a way for children from poor homes to get a jump on elementary learning with the hope that early academic immersion will blaze a trail for lifelong success. The abrupt halt to the program is not only jarring for parents who must fumble for backup child care but it means an unwelcome change in routine for the students.

A few days off from Head Start may not seem like a “big deal” to some citizens and may even seem trivial in comparison to the other shortfalls of the shutdown. That’s because many parents could find a trustworthy babysitter or a way to pay for one temporarily without it impacting their work schedule. That is often not the case with parents who take advantage of Head Start programs and are balancing a job or college coursework too. It is also easy for adults to take lightly what is being taught in pre-K classrooms around the nation - after all, how hard is it to learn ABCs and finger paint? In truth, the simple lessons of preschool make an incredible impact throughout life.

A study by the Ounce of Prevention Fund found that the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students begins as young as nine months of age. At-risk students who do not participate in guided early childhood education are 25 percent more likely to become high school dropouts and 70 percent more likely to face arrest following a violent crime. Studies have found that even short durations of time off school can negatively impact academic momentum, particularly in areas of literacy and especially the younger the child. The removal of funding from Head Start programs is more than a minor educational setback that can be fixed later; it has potential to derail the educational strides of at-risk students.

Head Start programs are in the immediate crossfire but K-12 education could also face some financial problems if the shutdown lasts for longer than one week. Nearly 90 percent of the employees at the U.S. Department of Education are furloughed and so any state applications that seek federal funding, like for Title I programming, are on hold. Access to information on sites like the National Center for Education Statistics is also at a standstill as the site is not operating during the shutdown.

There are a lot of reasons to end the government shutdown and some of them are too small to speak up for themselves. As educators, we should be demanding a solution in order to give all of our students the academic opportunities we say they all deserve. One day away from this pursuit is a day too many.

What are some other ramifications of the government shutdown that could impact K-12 education?

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.