Federal shutdown’s impact on AZ public schools - AZEdNews
Sections    Tuesday March 28th, 2023

Federal shutdown’s impact on AZ public schools

Students At Puente De Hozho Learn Dine (Navajo Language) Words In Their Classroom. Photo Courtesy Puente De Hozho School

Updated: The partial federal government shutdown, now in its 35rd day, has affected funding for educational improvement for Native American students, and it could cause problems with school lunch funding if it continues into March.

This shutdown is different from previous ones, because the Department of Education isn’t included, which means schools are still receiving most federal funding and grants, said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association.

But the shutdown has delayed the Arizona Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education’s receipt of a contract for fiscal year 2019 Johnson-O’Malley funds, because staff has been reduced at the federal level, said Stefan Swiat, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Education.

The National School Lunch program – administered by the Dept. of Agriculture, which is affected by the shutdown – only has enough money to meet students’ needs through March.

Federal shutdown’s impact on AZ public schools GarfieldStudents-in-Lunch-Line

Garfield Elementary students choose items for their lunch with help from food service staff members.

“At this time, we are not concerned with funding, unless the shutdown lasts longer than the end of March,” said Cara Alexander, RD, SNS and deputy associate superintendent of Health and Nutrition Services for the Arizona Department of Education.

“Based on communications we have had thus far, we’d expect an update to be provided before March that would allow us time to put a plan of action in place, and we would do whatever we could to prevent any gaps in service,” Alexander said.

Otherwise, all of Arizona Department of Education’s other program areas are operating normally for the time being, Swiat said.

Schools that receive forest fee service funds, work with a rural co-operative, or have hired employees and can’t use e-Verify are also affected by the shutdown, Kotterman said.

“It’s likely that these funds will be restored once the government re-opens, but schools have to float those amounts until they can get re-paid and how long they can float it depends on the district’s financial situation,” Kotterman said. “Generally speaking, the longer the shutdown continues, the more problems there could be.”

Efforts to end the shutdown

Shortly after noon today, President Donald Trump said a deal was reached to end the shutdown and open the government for the next three weeks and that legislation will be signed later today. This comes after hundreds of flights were grounded or delayed today after more air traffic controllers called in sick on Friday.

The Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill Friday, and the House is expected to pass it as well later in the day.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump said the shutdown could continue for several months, but U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a vote Thursday on a Democratic plan to fund the government for three weeks, but that measure failed. The plan did not include $5.7 billion in border wall funding that President Trump has demanded.

A measure supported by President Trump that offers a 3-year reprieve for Dreamers in exchange for border wall funding also failed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Van Hollen said a measure to temporarily reopen federal agencies affected by the shutdown would be unveiled later Thursday.

Federal shutdown’s impact on AZ public schools PuenteDeHozhoClassroom

Students at Puente de Hozho learn Dine (Navajo language) words in their classroom. Photo courtesy Puente de Hozho School

More than 380,000 federal employees are not working and not being paid across the nation, while 420,000 others have been required to work without pay, according to an article in The Arizona Republic.

In Arizona, 55,600 people, or about 2 percent of the workforce, are federal employees, which means a number of students’ families may be dealing with financial strain from not receiving a paycheck.

Arizona’s high poverty level – 18 percent, or fifth highest in the nation – means many families who depend on HUD-subsidized housing, receive SNAP benefits and use federally-funded health programs – especially clinics serving Native Americans or low-income areas – are impacted as well.

Impact on Johnson-O’Malley Funds

The shutdown’s delay impacts the $281,486.80 in Johnson-O’Malley funds that the Arizona Department of Education awards to 21 local education agencies to improve academic achievement of Native American students in Pre-K through Grade 12 public schools.

Many of these programs include cultural competency and student support activities to strengthen student learning, according to the Johnson-O’Malley Indian Education Report Fiscal Year 2017 released in March 2018.

Arizona school district that receive Johnson-O’Malley funding include Ajo Unified, Alhambra Elementary, Amphitheater Unified, Chandler Unified, Creigton Elementary, Grand Canyon Unified, Madison Elementary, Marana Unified, Mesa Unified, Osborn Elementary, Phoenix Elementary, Phoenix Union, Prescott Unified, Scottsdale Unified, Stansfield Elementary, Sunnyside Unified, Tempe School District, Tempe Union, Tolleson Union, Tucson Unified as well as the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Federal shutdown’s impact on AZ public schools PuenteDeHozhoNavajoObjectives

The posted lesson objective and students work in Navajo in a Puente de Hozho classroom. Photo courtesy Puente de Hozho School

The funding is used to pay for salaries and benefits for teachers, tutors, cultural enrichment teachers, after school and summer school programs, culturally relevant curriculum, supplies, provide professional services, other expenses and services and help with indirect cost recovery.

Data indicates that this funding helps improve Native American students academic achievement. For example, 21 percent of Native American students were found to be proficient or highly proficient in English Language Arts on the AzMERIT in districts that received Johnson-O’Malley funds, compared to 17 percent in schools without the funds.

“My concerns are that we won’t receive a contract, and local education agencies won’t receive their funding until after the shutdown is over,” Swiat said. “Our local education agencies already had to go through a delay for fiscal year 2018 funds and now fiscal year 2019 funds are late.

Impact on school lunch funding

The shutdown has not impacted funding yet for the National School Lunch Program, because “federal funding (from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service) provided to local educational agencies has been and will continue to be available to fund activities and meals served through March,” Alexander said.

The National School Lunch Program, is a federally funded initiative that provides more than 30 million at-need youth with nutritious meals nationwide.

Federal shutdown’s impact on AZ public schools StudentsEatingLunch2

Students at Garfield Elementary in Phoenix eating their meals. Photo by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews

“Local educational agencies are able to operate their local programs without interruption in funding and state agency staff continue to be funded as well to provide our training and any technical assistance local educational agencies may need,” Alexander said.

But “agencies who utilize the USDA Foods Program may be impacted by the shutdown in the coming weeks, as they are to be completing their USDA food product requisitions as part of the school year 2019/2020 menu planning and food ordering processes,” Alexander said.

The Web Based Supply Chain Management system used for this process that also includes catalogs for school year 2019-2020 will not be functional until the government reopens, Alexander said.

“This may ultimately cause a burden on school program operators by significantly shortening the time-frame to review the catalog and load their requisitions,” Alexander said. “This has further implications for the food processing industry, which may impact costs and availability of products for schools.”

On Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, all states were invited to join a conference call with Food and Nutrition Services where key information was shared and questions from state agencies were answered, Alexander said.

Also, Arizona’s State Nutrition Action Committee has provided an update with additional assistance programs under FNS that may be useful for those working with Arizona’s schools and families who are recipients of benefits from these programs, Alexander said.

How school districts are helping

Many school districts nationwide and in Arizona – including Maricopa Unified, Tucson Unified –  are encouraging students’ families impacted by the shutdown to apply for the free- and reduced lunch program at their public schools, because of their loss in pay. Some school districts, like Tucson Unified, will also defer any program tuition payments for preschool or special club dues for furloughed employees upon request.

Arizona businesses, utilities, credit unions and restaurants are offering help to those impacted from the shutdown, but the strain from not having food, gas money and being able to pay bills will continue until the shutdown ends and schools should acknowledge the emotional strain that places on students, according to an Education DIVE article.