Two top Republican senators on education issues have some major questions for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when it comes to the way the Obama administration has been describing the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, which are set to kick-in today.
In a letter to sent to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Senate K-12 policy committee, and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the top Republican on the panel that oversees education spending, have questioned the department's estimate that 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs, made on CBS' Face the Nation last Sunday. The lawmakers argue that state and local implementation of the cuts will play a major role in determining just how many (if any) staff reductions there will be. (They aren't the only ones casting doubt on that figure. Way more, including Duncan's response, here.)
The senators also note that, in public statements about the cuts, Duncan has emphasized the impact on Title I grants to districts and special education, while the administration's budget requests have tended to funnel increases to competitive grants, such as Race to the Top, that only go out to a handful of states and districts. (The administration has sought more money for competitive grants while generally seeking level funding for big formula programs in its most recent budget request. But Title I and special education, which are financed at more than $25 billion combined, are still a much bigger part of the department's overall budget.
Way more on the formula vs. competitive grant debate here.)
The senators also want to know how the department worked with the Office of Management of Budget to figure out where to reduce spending. (The administration has repeatedly asserted that the legislation that put the cuts in place didn't allow for any flexibility on how to implement them—the cuts must be across-the-board.) The senators also want to know how many employees have been hired since the cuts were announced as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling, and whether there would be furloughs for political and career employees, among other questions.