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As Budget Battle Looms, Education Department Warns Against Early-Ed. Cuts

The U.S. Department of Education went on the offense Monday to protect federal education programs ahead of looming spending battles in Congress to stave of a government shutdown prior to the end of the fiscal year, Oct. 1.

Specifically, the department took aim at the appropriations bills that passed through the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would slash funding for federal education programs by $1.7 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively.

Those bills, which passed through appropriations committee this summer, have not been voted on by the full chambers.

In a press release, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan blasted the Republicans' decision to slash the administration's Preschool Development Grant program, arguing it would pull funds away from states in the last two years of the grant.

"Congress is moving forward with a plan that would take critical early learning opportunities from the children who need it the most—delaying their learning by a year and missing an opportunity to chip away at the educational gaps that exist for children from low- and moderate income families," Duncan said in a statement. "These children and their families cannot afford to wait for Washington to decide whether or not they get the right start for success."

According to the press release, eliminating the pre-K program would jeopardize state and local plans to serve nearly 60,000 additional children. The cuts would leave another 43,000 children to attend preschool in programs in need of important quality improvements.

Here's an estimate from the Education Department:

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Though both bills would nix the Obama administration's pre-K initiative, they would both pump more than $100 million into Head Start, an early-education program for low-income families, over current funding levels.

Importantly, Republican appropriators in both chambers have said repeatedly that they'd prefer to put even more money into early-childhood-education initiatives if there was more money to spend.

And that's the bigger issue at play here—the limited federal resources.

Both chambers' funding plans were largely pegged to the congressionally mandated across-the-board spending caps, known as sequestration. But President Barack Obama has said he'd veto any appropriations plans that lock in sequester-level funding.

When lawmakers return to Washington in September, they'll have just 10 legislative days to hash out spending plan before the end of the fiscal year.

You can read more about the options they'll be haggling over here.

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