Education secretary urges balanced budget cuts

July 25, 2012 - 7:43 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Services would have to be slashed for more than 1.8 million disadvantaged students and thousands of teachers and aides would lose their jobs when automatic budget cuts kick in, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday.

He urged Congress to find an alternative deficit-reduction plan that won't undermine the department's ability to serve students in high-poverty schools and improve schools with high dropout rates.

Duncan said the automatic cuts, referred to by many in Washington as sequestration, also would adversely impact financial aid programs for college students.

Sequestration would "jeopardize our nation's ability to develop and support an educated, skilled workforce that can compete in the global economy," Duncan told a Senate appropriations panel.

The automatic cuts come after a bipartisan congressional panel failed to outline a plan to cut $1.2 trillion of deficit over 10 years. The panel was created in the budget law implemented last summer that reduced government spending and raised the country's borrowing authority.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Congress needs to prevent the automatic cuts, but said the Education Department also needs to reduce its spending budget.

Shelby said the Education Department requested a $1.7 billion increase in its discretionary budget for 2013. "Our nation cannot continue to spend money we don't have," Shelby said.

Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, said that "cuts such as those that would be made to federal education programs through sequestration are both necessary and overdue."

He said federal spending per student after adjusting for inflation has nearly tripled since 1970, but that the academic performance of students has not improved correspondingly.

Duncan countered that the Education Department has cut more than $1.2 billion from the department's budget for programs that were not performing efficiently.

Duncan said education should be seen as an investment, not an expense, and that solid education funding is necessary to compete with countries that are proactively investing on education.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said that around $2.7 billion could be lost in federal funding for at least three educational programs: Title I, special education state grants and Head Start.

"We all agree sequestration would be tremendously destructive," Harkin said. "We all must come together with good will to hammer out a balanced agreement that will not only prevent sequestration, but reduce our deficit and protect America's families."

Duncan said a $1.1 billion cut in Title 1 would hit students in more than 4,000 schools. He said that more than 15,000 teachers and aides could lose their jobs.

Programs, such as Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants and the Impact Aid Basic Support Payments, could also be cut, Duncan said.

Duncan said that students could experience delays in their financial aid decisions because the cuts would make the department lay off or furlough staff members who determine financial aid eligibility, expedite financial aid and process loan requests.