Sequestration would “jeopardize our nation’s ability to develop and support an educated, skilled workforce that can compete in the global economy,” Duncan told a Senate panel. (Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock.com)

Services would have to be slashed for more than 1.8 million disadvantaged students and thousands of teachers and aides would lose their jobs if automatic, across-the-board cuts to the federal budget kick in as a result of lawmakers’ failure to agree on deficit-reduction measures, Education Secretary Arne Duncan warned July 25.

He urged Congress to find an alternative deficit-reduction plan that won’t undermine the Education Department’s ability to serve students in high-poverty schools and improve schools with high dropout rates.

Duncan said the automatic cuts, referred to by many in Washington as sequestration, also would adversely affect financial aid programs for college students.

Sequestration would “jeopardize our nation’s ability to develop and support an educated, skilled workforce that can compete in the global economy,” Duncan told a Senate appropriations panel.

The automatic cuts are scheduled to take place after a bipartisan congressional panel last year failed to outline a plan to cut $1.2 trillion of deficit over 10 years. The panel was created in the budget law implemented last summer that reduced government spending and raised the country’s borrowing authority.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Congress needs to prevent the automatic cuts, but he said the Education Department also must reduce its spending budget.

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Shelby said the Education Department requested a $1.7 billion increase in its discretionary budget for 2013. “Our nation cannot continue to spend money we don’t have,” Shelby said.

Duncan countered that the Education Department has cut more than $1.2 billion from the department’s budget for programs that were not performing efficiently.

Duncan said education should be seen as an investment, not an expense, and that solid education funding is necessary to compete with countries that are proactively investing on education.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said that around $2.7 billion could be lost in federal funding for at least three educational programs: Title I, special-education state grants, and Head Start.