Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls sequestration “economically foolish and morally indefensible”

Children participating in Head Start. SOURCE: Office of Head Start / HHS

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan warned that sequestration would amount to “educational malpractice” by imposing steep cuts to schools and programs that help students from impoverish areas or have special needs.

“Sequestration would force us to cut crucial services, doing real damage to the life chances of millions of students. There’s only unnecessary pain,” Duncan testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 14. “When the cuts hit, they will hurt the most vulnerable students the worst because federal education resources generally are targeted to those children with the greatest need.”

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

Sequestration – or across-the-board cuts to the discretionary budget mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 – is scheduled to take effect on March 1 unless Congress and the White House can agree to a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction package.

Duncan told lawmakers the sequester cuts would force local school districts to lay off more teachers, increase class sizes, and offer fewer services such as tutoring to help students struggling academically.

If sequestration takes effect, Title I grants for high-poverty schools would be slashed by $725 million, resulting in the potential layoffs of 10,000 teachers and staff serving 1.2 million low-income students.

Special education grants would be reduced by $598 million, affecting about 7,200 teachers. Cash-strapped state governments and school districts would have to make up for the funding shortfall.

Duncan noted that 80% of the school districts surveyed “would not be able to make up the losses from sequestration” because “state and local budgets are only just beginning to recover from the recent financial crisis and economic recession.”

Head Start – a program that offers early education, health, nutrition, and other services for low-income children under age 5 – would have cut off services to 70,000 students.

According to research by the National Head Start Association, children who received early childhood education tend to perform better academically and have higher employment rates and earnings as adults.

“As the President talked about in his State of the Union, we’re trying to do a lot more in early childhood education, not go in the opposite direction,” said Duncan.

School districts that serve a high concentration of children from military families or children who live on Indian lands would experience huge funding shortfalls this spring, affecting the districts’ ability to pay teacher salaries and maintenance of school buildings.

The Impact Aid Funding would be reduced by $60 million. As a result, federal funding for the Gallup McKinley County Public Schools in New Mexico, which serves 6,700 children who live on Indian lands, would be reduced by $2 million, and the Killeen Independent School District in Texas, which serves 18,000 military children, would be cut by $2.6 million.

These cuts, Duncan warned, would hurt the United States’ economic competitiveness in the future by stunting the development of an educated workforce today.

“Our competitors are keeping their education systems strong and striving to actually get better faster,” said Duncan. “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?

Overview of sequester cuts to educational programs:

  • Title I grants for high-poverty schools: $725 million, affecting 10,000 teachers and staff serving 1.2 million low-income students
  • Special education grants: $598 million, affecting 7,200 teachers and staff serving 6.5 million students with special needs
  • Early childhood education: Reduction of services to 70,000 low-income students
  • Impact Aid Funding to schools serving high concentration of children from military families and children living on Indian land: $60 million
  • Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants that provide job training for people with disabilities: $160 million
  • Federal Work-Study Program that helps students pay for part of their college education: $49 million, affecting 33,000 students
  • Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants for low-income college students: $37 million, affecting 71,00 students

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