(CNSNews.com) – If the automatic federal budget cuts known as the sequester go into effect on March 1, 70,000 children could be be kicked out of Head Start, the federal preschool program for low-income children and families, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a Senate committee on Thursday.
“In early childhood education we’re seeing some very tough cuts as well,” Duncan said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the sequestration portion of the Budget Control Act.
“In Head Start, some 70,000 students could be kicked out,” Duncan said.
Referencing President Barack Obama’s proposal to circumvent the sequester as noted in his State of the Union address, Duncan said cutting students from the Head Start program was going “in the opposite direction.”
“Doing that to our most vulnerable children is educational malpractice, economically foolish, and morally indefensible.” he said.
Head Start is the “largest federally funded early education program” with approximately 900,000 students enrolled in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In that same year, the federal budget for Head Start was $8.1 billion. Federal law requires states that use the program to make a 20 percent fiscal or “in kind” contribution to Head Start.
Duncan called education an “investment” in his prepared remarks.
The Budget Control Act was proposed by Obama, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president on Aug. 2, 2011.
Other Obama administration officials who testified at the hearing included Danny Werfel, federal controller with the Office of Management and Budget, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.