Duncan Asks Lawmakers to Compromise on Deficit, Avoid Cuts

The failure of the budget supercommittee set up by Congress to reach a compromise on a deficit reduction plan during the tense budget negotiations last year means that automatic cuts to many federal programs are scheduled to go into effect in the near future. Several education initiatives are targets of the cuts, known as sequestration, unless both parties can agree to long-term plan to reduce the budget deficit before the end of the year. Yesterday, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on lawmakers to get back to the negotiating table to make sure that the across-the-board cuts to education programs will not cause long-term harm to America’s students.

“Essentially, we’re playing chicken with the lives of the American people – our schools, communities, small businesses, farms, public safety, infrastructure and national security,” Secretary Duncan told members of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.  “If we don’t work together to solve this problem, it further erodes what little faith remains in our elected leadership to put partisan politics aside and do the right thing for children and families.”

Currently, lawmakers are debating the budget plan submitted by President Barack Obama that would allow the federal government to reduce the deficit. Duncan said that the plan calls for substantial belt-tightening, but in a much more responsible way than would be possible if the automatic cuts went into effect. And unlike sequestration, the proposal also lays down a long-term plan for the government to follow and thus avoid the yearly tug of war over the federal budget.

Among the programs Duncan listed as likely to be effected if the automatic cuts are triggered is Title I, which would see its funding reduced by nearly $1.1 billion, and the federal special education subsidy program which will lose $900 million and might result in layoffs of more than 10,000 teachers. The spending on programs like Head Start, child care assistance, and aid programs for single and low-income mothers will also be reduced.

For Title I, special education and other large K-12 programs, the cuts would take effect in the fall of 2013. Duncan pointed out that in a recent poll 80 percent of school administrators said they would be unable to replace the lost federal funds with state and local money.