Transcript: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s testimony on impacts of sequestration before the Senate Appropriations Committee

Transcript of testimony by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on the impacts of sequestration on schools, colleges, and America’s future workforce. The Senate Appropriations Committee hearing was held on Feb. 14, 2013:

…With your support, we’ve been able to help states, districts, and communities make changes that are bringing major benefits for all students, particularly the most vulnerable.

The issue of sequestration is vital and I appreciate this opportunity to testify about this topic once again.

I hope that committee members will keep those most vulnerable students in the forefront of their minds because they are the ones who will be hurt most if Congress chooses to let sequestration happen.

I want to be clear that I believe we absolutely have opportunities at all levels of government to make spending on education more productive and more efficient. But boosting educational productivity requires smart, targeted changes to programs – not indiscriminate across-the-board budget cuts.

Sequestration would force us to cut crucial services, doing real damage to the life chances of millions of students. There’s only unnecessary pain; there’s no…plan B.

Here’s who would get hurt with the sequester.

The biggest cuts would take effect next school year – the 2013-14 school year – but their impacts would start sooner.

When I ran the Chicago public schools, we made hiring decisions in the spring, like pretty much every other district.

Under sequestration, districts would have to plan to make do with less, meaning fewer teachers and staff, larger class sizes, fewer courses, less tutoring, and higher unemployment. This undermines the very stability and predictability every school system works so hard to achieve.

It hurts families, children, teachers, and school staff. And the vast majority of school districts obviously will not be able to make up with these cuts at the local level.

When the cuts hit, not surprisingly, they will hurt the most vulnerable students the worst, because federal education resources generally are targeted to those children with the greatest need.

At the K-12 level, here’s what that means concretely:

Title I grants serves almost 23 million students in high poverty schools and special education state grants help about 6.5 million special needs students. Sequestration would cut Title I by $725 million, which could affect 1.2 million disadvantaged students and risk the jobs of about 10,000 teachers and support staff.

In special education, we could be forced to cut almost $600 million, which would require states and districts to cover the costs of approximately 7,200 teachers, aides, and other staffs.

And in early childhood education, we’ve seen some very tough cuts as well. At Head Start, some 70,000 students could be kicked out. As the President talked about in his State of the Union, we’re trying to do a lot more in terms of early childhood education not go in the opposite direction. Doing that to our most vulnerable children is educational malpractice, economically foolish, and morally indefensible.

In higher education, the impact is just as destructive. We would have to cut back collections of student debts, decrease in payments to the Treasury, and fall behind on servicing up to 29 million student loans. We would also cut more than 70,000 students from grant and work study programs that help needy students finance the costs of college. Clearly that is not the path we want to go down to regain our place as a nation that leads the world in college completion.

While those cuts don’t take effect until the next school year, others will hit right away and these cuts affect schools and programs that draw much of their direct funding from us – the federal government.

Who will be hurt right away? Disproportionately families of our military service members, individuals with disabilities, and people living on Native American lands.

Just to give you one quick example: In the Gallup-McKinley county public schools in New Mexico, which enrolls 7,000 students living on Indian lands, sequestration would cut more than a third – a third – of that district’s budget. These are young people we desperately need to invest more in, not less.

And we have already warned our own employees at the Department of Education of possible furloughs, which across-the-board cuts would force us to make. We’ve already made significant cuts in our department’s budget and we believe in continuing to look for efficiencies.

But let me say this: Education isn’t just another line in the budget, just another government expense. Education is fundamentally an investment. It’s an investment in the future of our children, our communities, our competitiveness, and our country.

High quality education from cradle all the way through to career is the only way to build a strong and vibrant middle-class and to foster upward economic and social mobility.

At a time when most young Americans don’t today meet the minimum qualifications to enlist in the military, it’s also an investment in our national security.

Budgets, as all of you know, are not just numbers. Whether we as a nation choose to invest in children and in education is a crystal clear statement about our values.

Children listen to what we say but it’s our actions and not our words that tells them whether or not we truly care.

As President Obama said in the State of the Union address, these are “sudden, harsh, and arbitrary cuts that would devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research.”

It would certainly slow down our recovery and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Internationally, I promise you our competitors are keeping their education systems strong and striving to actually get better faster. Do we want to help our children successfully compete in a global economy or do we want our country to drift in the opposite direction?

Madame Chairwoman, you and I both know Congress can take another better path. Sequestration would represent an uncompromising, rigid, tone deaf government at its worst.

I would echo the President in asking that you take the time to develop a budget that will permanently replace the sequester.

As I testified last summer, the President and all of us here on his team remain ready to work with all of you on a long-term plan to cut the deficit while investing in strategic programs that will strengthen our families, our economy, and our global leadership. The American people deserve no less.

Thank you.

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