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Congress Avoids Government Shutdown as New Challenges Loom

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE. 

USA open and end of shutdown and United States government opened for business and american federal employees back to work due to spending bill agreement the left and the right with 3D illustration style.It’s the end-of-year countdown season for Congress and a lot is at stake!

Congress Races to the Finish Line 

On this past Thursday, just 36 hours before government funding was set to lapse, lawmakers rallied to unite behind a deal that will keep the government funded at its current levels through February 18. The House voted 221-212 to approve the measure. The Senate then passed the 11-week stopgap spending bill in a 69-28 vote—sending the measure to the President’s desk. The legislation, referred to as a continuing resolution (CR), will prevent a government shutdown while keeping the government funded at levels set nearly one year ago by former President Trump.

While this temporary patch will keep the government open, it could result in federal agencies delaying grant competitions and disbursement of funds. The lack of knowledge about what the full year’s level of funding will be, and the February 18 end to the current funding level, can result in hesitancy to commit to yearlong grants as there is no certainty about what the full year’s funding amount will be. The current CR could be extended to October 1, 2022, the end of the fiscal year, or new bills could be passed with increased or decreased funding levels for various programs. 

With the House having passed its funding bill for education and offering a 35% increase, and the President’s budget recommending a 41% increase, advocates are quite keen on shifting to a permanent full year funding bill after February 18.

Next week, Congress will shift gears and face the other item on the “must-do” list — the debt limit. The current debt limit will be reached by December 15 and without congressional action, the government will not be able to meet its financial obligations. In recent weeks, Republicans have vowed not to help Democrats raise the debt limit. In order to pass it without any Republican support in the Senate, yet another budget resolution would need to be adopted. Given the short time frame, this is very unlikely. Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) would like to address the debt limit with a traditional bi-partisan vote.

During testimony before the Senate Banking Committee this week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen underscored the urgency of the matter. “I cannot overstate how critical it is that Congress address this issue,” Yellen said. “America must pay its bills on time and in full. If we do not, we will eviscerate our current recovery.”

Finally, Congress has two major items on their “want to do” list – both of which could have a significant impact on education funding: passage of the National Defense Authorization Act and the Build Back Better Act. The National Defense Authorization Act is not an appropriations bill, but rather is an authorization bill, which in its current form authorizes more funding for defense than was proposed in the FY22 appropriations bill passed by the House in the summer. If the appropriations bill ultimately matches the authorization bill we can expect to see cuts across all non-defense discretionary funds—including education. As for the Build Back Better Act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he wants the Senate to pass the Build Back Better Act by Christmas.  But with a full agenda between now and then, analysts are skeptical Democrats can get it across the finish line before the new year.

Advocates are keeping a close eye on all of the moving parts in Congress but are especially interested getting an FY22 appropriations bill passed coupled with the Build Back Better Act. While the path remains unclear, it will certainly be a race to the finish line and your voice matters. As both the FY22 appropriations legislation and the Build Back Better Act have historic increases for education funding, now is the time for advocacy.  Below we have 3 opportunities for you to raise your voice for education funding. We urge you to participate. 

New Resources 

  • Educating All Learners is out with a new resource focusing on the use of ESSER funds to prepare and support teachers of students with disabilities.

We know you join us in sending our condolences to the families and the community of Oxford High School in Michigan as they grieve the devastating loss of life and the senseless violence this week that left four young students dead.  We hope that all of our policy makers find the courage to boldly address this ongoing tragedy.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. Follow us on Twitter @janewestdc and @brennan_kait.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant