By Glenn Kessler
The Washington Post
Sequester “just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need, and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. . . . There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”
— Education Secretary Arne Duncan, CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Feb. 24
Duncan’s striking claim that teachers were already “getting pink slips,” before the sequester officially went into effect on Friday, was actually the second time he had made this assertion.
“I was on a call yesterday, people are starting to give RIF [reduction in force] notes,” Duncan said in a meeting with reporters Feb. 21, three days before his appearance on CBS. “Schools are already starting to give teachers notices.”
Oddly, however, the Education Department for days was unable to cough up the name of a single school district where these notices had been delivered. Then, on Wednesday, Duncan appeared before the White House press corps and produced a name — Kanawha County in West Virginia — with a major-league caveat. “Whether it’s all sequester-related, I don’t know,” he said.
Duncan’s spokesman, Daren Briscoe, said in an e-mail that “the information shared on the call was that just over 100 teachers and Head Start teachers had received layoff notices.”
Unlike the dubious figure that “40,000 teachers could lose their jobs” — more on that below — this at least was specific information. So let’s check it out.
The first thing that was striking about this figure of 100 teachers is that it was higher than the estimate in the state-by-state impact of the sequester released by the White House over the weekend. For the entire state of West Virginia, the White House said, “around 80 teacher and aide jobs [were] at risk,” plus an additional 40 teachers and aides for children with disabilities. And yet here, according to Duncan, was a single county with 100 potential layoffs.