President Donald Trump announced Friday that he had reached a deal with Congress to reopen the government until Feb. 15 while lawmakers and his administration negotiate over border security. This will at least temporarily alleviate concerns about federal funding for school meals, although if the government shuts down again after that date, concerns about money for school meals could reemerge.
The U.S. Department of Education might be open, but for his first hearing as chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., has chosen to focus on the government shutdown’s potential effects on schools.
On Jan. 31, the panel will consider and hear testimony about the impact that the National School Lunch and breakfast programs could feel as the shutdown continues. The lunch and breakfast programs feed about 30 million children each day in schools. The Trump adminstration has said the programs have enough funding to last them into March. But the House Democrats now in charge of the committee said in a statement Friday that the shutdown will “soon imperil the health and well-being of students, families, and workers across the country.” The hearing will also highlight the shutdown’s potential impacts on the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which provides nutrition assistance to families.
School meal programs tend to operate on strict budgets and separately from other district programs.
If the shutdown ends before the hearing date, it’s reasonable to assume that the hearing won’t proceed. But if it does take place, a lot of people will likely tune in, if for no other reason than it’s the first time Democrats will hold the gavel on the committee in about eight years. It’s unlikely that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would appear at the hearing, since her department does not oversee federal school meals programs (they’re run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Yet Scott’s demeanor, the way he runs the hearing, and how other Democrats handle any Trump officials who testify could be closely scrutinized.
Some political pressure is building around this issue in the education community. Earlier this week, the School Nutrition Association urged federal officials to end the shutdown before the meals are affected. And groups like the National PTA, the two national teachers’ unions, and several groups representing school administrators made a similar argument in a letter this week.