Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan Carolyn Kaster/AP

Education faces major cuts and furloughs, secretary says

Sequestration would force massive teacher layoffs, Arne Duncan says.

Sequestration likely would lead the Education Department to furlough “many” employees, the department’s secretary told Federal News Radio.

Secretary Arne Duncan said he did not know the exact number of furloughs to expect, but he added the automatic cuts included in the 2011 Budget Control Act could come at the expense of 229,000 civilian federal jobs, based on a new industry-commissioned report from George Mason University.

"If we're faced with tough calls, we have an obligation to be fiscally responsible," he said Wednesday in an interview with FNR.

Duncan’s comments came after his testimony to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and Related Agencies. It was the first hearing to address the effects sequestration would have on non-Defense government agencies.

He said the comprehensive budget cuts slated to take effect in Janauary 2013 also would mitigate the department’s ability to prevent waste, fraud and abuse in some student financial assistance programs. He pointed to Title I and special education as additional areas that could be drastically affected by across-the-board cuts to Education’s budget.

“I don’t think we have a lot of flexibility here,” Duncan said of potential cuts. “Regardless of impact, regardless of efficacy . . . it’s a horrendous way to think about budget choices.”

He pointed to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that discretionary appropriations to new nondefense programs would be reduced by 7.8 percent in his prediction that Education grants would be slashed by billions of dollars in the event of sequestration, resulting in tens of thousands of teacher layoffs.

“The sequestration will put at risk all that we have accomplished in education,” Duncan testified.