Education Secretary Arne Duncan had a rough week. I can't recap his shenanigans leading up to the sequestration any better than Education Week's Alyson Klein. Check out her post on the topic here.
Let's just say that Duncan took one for the White House team in his impassioned pleas to stop the automatic budget cuts that went into effect Friday. And it wasn't pretty. He got four "Pinnochios" from the Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler for his "the sky is falling" statements about "teachers now getting pink slips." The conservative Heritage Foundation gleefully used the Washington Post's watchdog to point out that funding for non-teachers has actually grown over the last several years.
The gaffe speaks to the real confusion about the impact of the budget cuts on education. Duncan certainly misspoke, even using the White House's state-by-state data. And some of the White House's claims--400,000 students affected, for example--are hard to prove.
But the haziness of the data doesn't mean that the cuts aren't coming and that schools aren't going to be negatively impacted. National School Boards Association President C. Ed Massey wrote in an op-ed late last year that for every $1 million in federal funding a school district receives, sequestration would cut $82,000. That's still true. Last week, he said that in Boone County, Ky., his home, the 20,000-student school district will have to eliminate about 15 jobs funded by Title I grants. According to the Center for Education Funding, the sequester would lead to the largest education cuts ever at the federal level. They would bring the total K-12 budget back to the level of the fiscal year 2004.
How and when the sequester will hit is as hard to predict as a tornado. Looking at the White House numbers, big states like California and Texas are screwed, with almost 300 schools at risk. But remember, those are just estimates. States will play a role, too, in crafting their own school budgets.
What should educators most fear about the budget cuts? What are the red herrings in the debate? How can schools prepare for the cuts? What should educators expect from the federal government in its handling of the sequester? What should they expect from state governments and school boards? What message is most important for lawmakers to hear from the education community? To the extent educators already are making that argument, is anyone listening?