So are those 4,000 Department of Education employees on furlough getting paid during the shutdown? For now, they're not, but they could be eligible for back pay under a bill authored by a cadre of Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the Washington area. The Obama administration supports the measure.
Since there doesn't appear to be an end in sight to the shutdown, House Republicans are introducing a series of bills funding certain programs that have gotten political attention (including Head Start and Impact Aid) through the middle of December.
The bills aren't likely to go very far— they're a kind of political theater, since Democrats have made it clear that they oppose almost any approach to get at the budget problems in a piecemeal fashion. (But some Democrats do like the back-pay provision.) Essentially, Democrats are worried that if the budget deal is accomplished bit by bit, Congress could end up financing everything but the president's health care law (which, after all, is at the root of the fiscal stalemate). The Republican contention: If lawmakers can agree to fund certain key programs that have felt an immediate squeeze from the shutdown ... shouldn't they do it?
What do education advocates think? The Committee for Education Funding—which counts numerous K-12 organizations, including the National Education Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, among its members—isn't a fan of the piecemeal approach and plans to send a letter to lawmakers saying so. Joel Packer, the executive director of the CEF, said he sees the Republican move to single out some education programs as essentail as "hypocritical", given the deep cuts to domestic spending put forth in the House GOP Budget.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, the House approved a bill that would continue funding for Head Start through the shutdown. It's still not likely to go anywhere in the Senate or be signed by the president.
And finally, what exactly is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan doing during the shutdown? He's working out of his office, said Cameron French, a spokesman for the Education Department. He's already had to cancel some appearences. Case in point: Duncan was supposed to attend NBC's Education Nation in person—but he canceled because of the shutdown. Instead, he may participate in some events remotely.