Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he misspoke concerning pink slips

Chris Usher/CBS News via Getty Images - Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on "Face the Nation" on Feb. 24.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered a mea culpa of sorts Monday, saying that he misspoke on national television last week when he said that teachers were already losing jobs as a result of the budget sequester.

“When I said ‘pink slips’ that was probably the wrong word,” Duncan told reporters at a news conference related to the sequester. “Language matters, and I need to be very, very clear.”

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In discussing the cuts to federal aid to schools on “Face the Nation” last Sunday, Duncan said “there are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices that they can’t come back this fall.”

Most of the country’s 15,000 school districts will not feel the effects of the cuts, which took effect in March, until next school year.

At the White House last Wednesday, Duncan was pressed to identify districts that have begun laying off staff. He singled out Kanawha County, a community in West Virginia.

But school officials in that county said that while the cuts in federal aid added to their financial burden, they were going to have to cut jobs regardless of the sequester because of other financial issues.

Republicans seized on Duncan’s comments as evidence that the Obama administration was overstating the impact of the sequester.

“We had a little drama,” Duncan said Monday, after meeting with superintendents from schools on military bases and Native American reservations, the first batch of schools to lose federal funds as a result of the sequester. “Got it. Lesson learned.”

The dust-up is distracting from what Duncan called the real problem — the fact that school districts around the country are going to lose federal funding for Head Start, and for poor and disabled children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“The focus should be on what is actually happening in real communities,” Duncan said. “Any additional focus on me is a smoke screen to not deal with the larger issue.”

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