Testimony of Secretary Duncan before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee

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Testimony of Secretary Duncan before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee

July 25, 2012

I want to thank the Chairman, the Ranking Member, and other Members of this Subcommittee for your support. Over the past three years, we've protected students at risk while investing in education reform that supports bold and courageous leadership at the both state and local level.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the potential devastating impact of sequestration. We hoped that the prospect of deep, indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts would spur Congress to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction. So far that hasn't happened. Clearly, there is still time to act, and we remain hopeful that we can avoid these cuts.

Fiscal year 2013 is a little more than two months away and sequestration kicks in three months after that on January 2nd -- so it's critically important that we – and the American people – fully understand the consequences of sequestration and take steps to avoid it now.

As all of you know, sequestration will force across-the-board budget cuts on almost every discretionary program. Education, defense, public safety and all other federal agencies would indiscriminately cut services that are essential to every state and community.

The sequestration will put at risk all that we've accomplished in education and weaken programs that help children, serve families, send young people and adults to college and make the middle class American dream possible.

Sequestration is absolutely the wrong way to make policy. It does not let Congress or the administration set priorities. It attacks both ineffective and effective programs with the same budget knife.

Perhaps, worst of all, it is another short-term fix to our long-term budget challenges. If sequestration happens, it simply means we didn't do our jobs in Washington -- we shirked our collective responsibility – and the people of America will pay the price.

Essentially, we're playing chicken with the lives of the American people – our schools, communities, small businesses, farms, public safety, infrastructure and national security. 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.

Clearly, it is time for Congress to work together with the administration to create a long-term plan to reduce the deficit while simultaneously supporting the economic recovery that is underway.

We have had 28 straight months of private sector job growth because we have been thoughtful and ambitious in the way we balance new investments with spending cuts. Today, in fact, domestic discretionary programs are at their lowest level as a share of G.D.P. since the Eisenhower Administration.

Congress has five months to work together to create a deficit reduction plan. President Obama has proposed a responsible way to do that when he submitted a plan that includes more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction. It maintains the Budget Control Act caps, and calls for significant, yet targeted, cuts in discretionary spending. We've tightened our belts in a responsible way.

Most importantly, the President's plan is a long-term fix. It will put an end to the see-saw budgeting that leaves state and local officials wondering if they can count on the federal government to be a partner with them on education and other vital programs.

Let's begin with education:

The President and I – and many, many members of Congress – recognize that education is the cornerstone of our economy. A good education leads to a good job and a lifetime of higher earnings. A strong education system and a strong economy are inextricably linked. Over the past three years, we've made investments in Race to the Top, the Investing in Innovation Fund, and other efforts to reform our schools so today's students are truly prepared to succeed in the global economy and keep high-wage, high-skill jobs in America.

Sequestration sends a signal that the United States is backtracking on its commitment to reform and its long-standing promise to promote equity through Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

Education is also essential for our military preparedness. A staggering 75 percent of young Americans are unable to enlist in the military today because they have either failed to graduate from high school, they have a criminal record, or they are physically unfit.

I've met with military leaders who recognize that the best way to address the dropout crisis is to start early and invest in early childhood education. They don't want to see cuts in Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants and other programs serving children.

The biggest impact in K-12 education will be felt starting in the fall of 2013. In a recent poll of school district leaders, 80 percent of them said they would not be able to use state and local funding to replace lost federal funds.

Based on the Congressional Budget Office's projection that sequestration will reduce programs by 7.8 percent, here's what we know will be at risk:

  • Title I funding would be cut by $1.1 billion, cutting off funding to more than 4,000 schools serving an estimated 1.8 million disadvantaged students. The jobs of more than 15,000 teachers and teacher aides would be at risk. Students would lose access to individual instruction, afterschool programs, and other interventions that help close achievement gaps.

  • Funding for special education would be reduced by $900 million. That could translate into the layoffs of more than 10,000 teachers, aides, and other staff who provide essential instruction and other support to 6.6 million children with disabilities in every one of your states.

  • On January 2nd, schools serving our military families through the Impact Aid program would have immediate cuts to their budgets. For example, the Killeen Independent School District in Texas would lose $4.6 million – directly affecting 18,000 children from military families. Military families make so many sacrifices for our country. Their children deserve a world-class education.

  • In higher education, the Department would need to slash spending on contracts to support the processing and origination of student loans, which could cause delays that will hurt students as they make decisions about college and could reduce services for borrowers seeking to repay their loans.

In addition to these cuts at our Department of Education, other agencies will have to be forced to reduce spending in ways that will slow our nation's educational progress.

  • Up to almost 100,000 low-income children would be denied access to the Head Start program, which is critical to preparing them for success in kindergarten and beyond.

  • 80,000 children would lose access to high quality care through the Child Care Development Block Grant.

  • The National Institutes of Health would issue 700 fewer grants to medical researchers, slowing progress in the search for treatments and cures to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and other diseases in research labs at hospitals and universities across the country. Up to 1500 grants would be cut from the National Science Foundation.

While it is absolutely our hope and intention to avoid sequestration, the Department of Education, along with all other agencies, will be ready to implement cuts if sequestration happens. But we all know that there are steps we can take so we don't have to start down this path that puts so many critical services to students, families and communities at risk. As everyone knows, sequestration does not have to happen and should not happen.

President Obama and all of us on his team are ready to work with you to create a long-term path to reduce the deficit while investing in the programs that will secure our country's economic prosperity and global leadership. Together, let's do the right thing.