Chris Schulz Published

State Schools Eye Impact Of Government Shutdown

An empty school hallway is largely white and well-lit, with bright blue doors at the end of the hallway.Adobe Stock/M. Ireland Photography

With the threat of a federal shutdown at the end of the week, the state’s schools are keeping an eye on the situation. 

West Virginia schools rely on several federal grants, including child nutrition programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and special education funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

Melanie Purkey, the federal programs officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, oversees the grants for child nutrition, special education funds, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act funding. She also works closely with colleagues in the career and technical office that receive federal funding.  

Purkey said the programs work on a reimbursement process, with counties applying for reimbursement from the state who then request reimbursement at the federal level.

“Each fiscal year, we receive a grant award that is similar to a letter of credit from the federal government, and we have an allocation that says you have up to this much,” she said. 

Purkey said that means the state has the ability to cover expenses for a time, but if the shutdown stretches into November there may begin to be cash flow issues. 

“If we’re entering into November, we would start those conversations and anticipate that at month two or three, the counties and or the state would start to have some cash flow issues if we were covering these expenses,” she said. “I believe the state would probably try to cover county drawdowns from the state level until there was no more cash flow at the state that could float that.”

The 2018-2019 federal shutdown was the longest in U.S. history at 35 days. Purkey said during that time, reimbursement requests were still processed through the shutdown.

“The federal agencies do have the ability to keep essential staff on, and typically the people who process drawdowns are considered essential staff,” she said. “In past shutdowns of the federal government, we have not had any issue with drawdowns not being processed, because those agencies have considered those folks, essential staff.”

Over the past decade, there have already been three federal government shutdowns and Purkey said her office is familiar with the process.

“We’re not overly concerned, but Congress is very unpredictable,” she said. “We will just watch the news every day and see how they are coming with their negotiations, and hope that they can resolve whatever issues might get them into a shutdown quickly.”