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Minn. Government Shuts Down: What It Means for Schools

The zero hour is at hand in Minnesota, with the state government having shut down as a result of the Democratic governor and Republican state lawmakers failing to reach a budget agreement.

What does this mean for the state's schools and students?

Initially, many district officials had worried that a shutdown, which began today, would result in all K-12 funding from the state being cut off, but that's not the case. Districts will continue to receive the majority of their funding, including the main source of their per-pupil aid, because of a decision by a Ramsey County judge, who said that money would continue to flow to cities and schools.

But the state's department of education, which has about 400 employees, has closed up shop, and that could have major implications for schools.

The department has been forced to halt its issuing and renewing of state teacher licenses, which Minnesota educators are required to have to work in the classroom. As of this week, the state had between 9,000 and 10,000 renewals to process, said Charlene Briner, a spokeswoman for the department of education.

The state has also halted all of its work determining whether schools have met "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind Act. It has also cut off its tech support to schools, as well as its research and work setting standards, she said.

Only the most essential functions are continuing at the agency, such as technology security, mail collection, and referrals of potential cases of maltreatment of minors to law enforcement, she said.

Briner, who spoke to me on her cell phone from her home, is one of about 12 employees on a rotating skeleton crew who are charged with keeping up with some department tasks.

There is widespread frustration among department employees about not being able to do their jobs, she said—and widespread fear about how long this will last, given that state employees who aren't working aren't being paid during the budget standoff.

"Some people had a little savings cushion; others may have been living paycheck to paycheck," Briner said. "The greatest stress is not knowing when they will be able to come back to work. ... This is difficult for thousands of people around the state of Minnesota."

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