Education Week - October 16, 2013 - (Page 22)

Lights On, Nobody There as Ed. Dept. Weathers Shutdown Only the ‘essential’ on hand to crew ship Until Oct. 1, Jenelle Leonard served as the director of school support and rural programs within the U.S. Department of Education. Then the federal government shut down, leaving 4,000 of the department’s workers, including Ms. Leonard, without a paycheck. What about Laura G. Johns, senior program advisor for the Office of Educational Technology? And Samuel Lopez, education program specialist at the office of English Language Acquisition? Yep, them too. Most of the Education Department’s phone lines now end up giving callers the same message: “There’s a temporary shutdown of the U.S. government due to a lapse in appropriations. I will respond to your message as soon as possible after the temporary shutdown ends.” Unfortunately, both for those seeking bureaucratic help and for the officials who normally offer it, the shutdown was still in effect as of press time last week, leaving everyone to wait on some deal on the still-unpassed fiscal year 2014 budget, the federal debt ceiling, or both, to get the government’s doors open again. “Everyone I know just wants to go back to work,” Steven Hicks, a senior policy adviser for the office of early learning, said. Mr. Hicks is one of the 94 percent of the Education Department’s staff in Washington and around the country who checks the news each day to see if work will be starting again, and he’s going a bit “stir crazy.” Greg Kahn for Education Week By Ross Brenneman Steven Hicks, who works at the U.S. Department of Education, was furloughed under the government shutdown. While his partner is still working on Capitol Hill, Mr. Hicks says he’s spent time cleaning their house and trying to keep busy. Cameron French literally laid down the law. “Interviews cannot be conducted with employees at this time, the excepted employee list is not public, and access to the [department] building is not allowed for this purpose,” Mr. French said via email. When the government says “shutdown,” it means it. Employees can’t take paid leave, can’t check their work email, or listen to work voice mail. Closed Up Tight The Office of Personnel Management advises the rest of the executive branch on employee conduct during a shutdown, although it delegates some guidelines, like those regarding media contact, to individual departments. (Mr. French clarified that the department cannot ask an employee to be an interviewed, but opm rules don’t explicitly forbid media contact.) Even though Mr. Hicks can’t do any formal work with the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge that his office oversees, he’s spent some of his free time reading over the proposals publicly available online. “I haven’t been instructed not to go to the ed website,” Mr. Hicks said. Indeed, for employees not exhausted from worrying about their family’s financial straits, there’s the looming problem of the work that has to be done once the shutdown ends. After all, someone has to process district Race to the Top applications, which were due Oct. 2, shutdown or otherwise. And then there’s the multitude of grant ap- plications, civil rights complaints, waiver claims, research experiments, and all the other functions of the department. “I think the big damage is the psychological damage,” the department source said. “Everybody there works their tails off, and really believe in what they’re doing, helping out the nation’s children. And just the fact that we’ve all been taken away from this thing we love doing, I think that’s probably had a real morale effect on everybody.” Mr. Hicks echoes that sentiment. “I think most of us didn’t think this was going to actually happen,” he said. “But of course we also didn’t think that sequestration would happen,” he added, referring to the across-the-board funding cuts that have slammed all federal agencies. Frustrated Workers Amid the shutdown, Congress has passed some piecemeal bills seeking to alleviate some pain for federal employees, such as ensuring pay to military members. On Oct. 5, the House approved legislation authorizing back pay for the “nonessential” federal workers, a measure President Barack Obama supports. If anyone thinks that employees are getting back pay for nothing, they should probably ease their stance. The work is going to get done, the employees say, but now there’s less time to do it, and that time has been diminished because of the congressional quagmire. “Everyone I know at the department—and I have colleagues at other agencies—just wants to get back to work,” Mr. Hicks said. “We work in this profession because we want to make a difference, and it’s very frustrating not being able to make a difference right now.” Pocketbook Impact There’s been plenty of talk about how a prolonged shutdown could soon create a full-blown crisis in the national economy. But for government employees, it’s already here. “The financial aspect has been tough on a lot of people. I know there are some people that live paycheck to paycheck,” said one employee at the Education Department, who was granted anonymity in order to speak freely. “A lot of people are worried about, ‘Will I make it through the month, what about mortgages, what about car payments?’—things along those lines.” Furloughed, or “nonessential,” employees don’t have any latitude to work during a government shutdown. Under the Antideficiency Act of 1884, which governs protocol during a shutdown, employees may not take on any responsibilities which would merit compensation by the government. When asked which employees weren’t considered “essential,” Education Department spokesman Philanthropists Devote $10 million To Keep Head Start Centers Open Houston-based philanthropists John and Laura Arnold have extended $10 million in emergency funding support to the National Head Start Association, money that will be used to reopen Head Start centers that closed and keep open centers on the brink of closure because of the federal government shutdown. The federal budget impasse was expected to affect up to 19,000 children who are served by 23 Head Start grantees that received their federal funding on Oct. 1. (There are about 1,600 Head Start grantees in all, and budget allocations are distributed throughout the calendar year.) Centers in six states—Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina—that together served about 7,000 children had to close immediately. Others had enough money to stay open for a short time, but were expected to close over the course of the month if the funding was not restored. If the government does not reopen by Nov. 1, additional Head Start programs serving more 22 | EDUCATION WEEK | October 16, 2013 | than 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. territory stand to lose access to funding. The Arnolds came forward last week and offered assistance, according to the National Head Start Association, an advocacy group representing Head Start providers. If the federal government restores funding sufficient for 52 weeks, the centers will repay the funds made available by the association at no interest. —CHRISTINA A. SAMUELS With Workplace Skills Program Shut, Students With Disabilities Sidelined The federal government shutdown may have had little direct impact on K-12 schools around the country as of last week, but a handful of public and private school students in the Washington area were an unfortunate exception. These students—roughly 40 in all—are part of a national program called Project search, which helps prepare students with disabilities for the workforce. The program, which is operated by a nonprofit organization in Cincinnati, helps students and young adults with disabilities gain career experience and workplace skills through a blend of classroom instruction and on-the-job training. The interns, who are typically in their final year of eligibility for special education services, spend a year at a range of job sites, including hospitals, banks, and universities. In the Washington area, the interns are often placed at federal agencies, including the Education Department. But, thanks to the shutdown, the interns can’t go to their job sites. “They’re not allowed in the federal buildings,” said Rebecca Salon, the manager of the state office of disability administration at the District of Columbia’s department on disability services, which partners with Project search. And many of the federal employees who supervise the interns are furloughed, she added. The program has worked out alternate arrangements—the Smithsonian interns are helping out in a nearby office, for example. “They’re managing, but the number one question from all of them is, ‘When do we get back to our real jobs?’” said Lu Merrick, the director of the post high school program at the Ivy Mount School in Rockville, Md., which participates in the program. —ALYSON KLEIN

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - October 16, 2013

Sequester May Linger, Some Fear
Parent-Sparked Charter Faces Challenge to Deliver
Pa. Texting Furor Shows Difficulties Facing IT Leaders
Educators Launch Startups; See Steep Learning Curve
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Teachers Use Social-Emotional Programs to Manage Classes
Ind. Districts, AG File Suit Over Federal Health-Care Law
Hospital Partnership Provides Trainers for School Sports
Mass. Enterprise Targets Inadequate Preschool Facilities
Blogs of the Week
Tablet-Computing Initiatives Suffer Major Setbacks
Charter-Campaign Aftershocks Continue
Texas Race Flags Education Issues On 2014 Electoral Horizon
School-Related Cases Factor in Supreme Court’s First Week Back
Lights On, Nobody There As Ed. Dept. Weathers Shutdown
Blogs of the Week
KEVIN MEUWISSEN: Teachers as Political Actors
ANDRE BENITO MOUNTAIN: Easing Social Studies Through Turbulent Times
JUDY WALLIS: A Call to Teachers: Don’t Forget the Joy
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
DEBORAH STIPEK: Using Accountability to Promote Motivation, Not Undermine It

Education Week - October 16, 2013