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No Furloughs at Education Department Under Sequester

Employees at the U.S. Department of Education won't face furloughs due to the cuts from sequestration, according to a memo sent to staff late this afternoon. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his team think furloughing staff would make it tough to get grants to school districts, states, and universities.

Here's a snippet from the email Duncan sent to employees today:

"Beyond the obvious impact on each of you, multiple furlough days in the final months of the fiscal year could delay or prevent grants or loans; increase the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse; and make it difficult to carry out the department's mission. Therefore, cutting back on employees' work days at this time would not be in the best interest of the taxpayers, states, schools, and students who benefit from the department's programs."

So where is the department going to take the cuts? From pretty much everywhere else. Overall the department is facing $2.5 billion in sequestration cuts. The cuts will affect Title I, special education, career and technical education, and just about everything else.

And the reductions do not change rules when it comes to maintenance of effort, time periods for using funds, supplement-not-supplant rules, or required set-asides of funds (i.e. money districts in states without waivers have to hold back for choice and tutoring under No Child Left Behind.) Districts and states had been asking for flexibility with those provisions, but it sounds like that wasn't in the cards.

When it comes to competitive grants, the department will try to scale back new competitions as much as they can, rather than take money away from existing grantees for continuation grants. But reducing continuation grants could also be necessary. That could have an impact on programs including Promise Neighborhoods, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and TRIO (a college access program), all of which are funded through continuation grants.

The department has also cut back on hiring in anticipation of the cuts. The agency has lost 773 full-time and part-time staff members due to attrition and retirement since August of 2011, but has hired 437 employees to replace those folks, filling about 57 percent of the vacancies.

The department is also planning to cut back on salaries, travel, contracts, conferences, and other administrative expenses, trimming about $85 million from those areas overall, out of a budget of about $1.65 billion.

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