(CNN) – Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he should have been clearer when describing the effects automatic spending cuts would have on one particular school district in West Virginia, saying Monday he was sorry for using the faulty example.
Duncan told reporters at the White House last Wednesday that the Kanawha County school system was already handing out pink slips in anticipation of the automatic cuts that, among other things, will impact the amount of federal money states get through September.
"Yes, there's a district where it's happened. But, again, it's just because they have an earlier union notification than most – Kanawha County, West Virginia," Duncan said at a briefing where Cabinet officers detailed the impact of cuts under the so-called congressional sequester to their agency programs.
But an official with the school district cautioned Duncan's explanation wasn't totally accurate. Diane Young, the coordinator of the Head Start program for Kanawha County Public Schools, explained that Head Start, the federal program for needy children, has yet to notify the school system whether it will provide federal money in the fall.
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Without any kind of funding notification from Head Start, Young told CNN the school system must plan to do without the program in the fall, and as a result was planning to lay off 16 teachers and 12 teaching assistants – but had yet to send the official notices. That means no dismissal announcements - pink or otherwise - were sent.
On Monday, Duncan said at a meeting with school district leaders he was sorry he misspoke.
"Language is really, really important, and I want to apologize for not being as clear as I should've been last week. Because I wasn't as clear, the spotlight was put on me and that's never ever my goal," Duncan said. "My goal here is to have the spotlight be on children and families, so when I said 'pink slips' that was probably the wrong word. I should've used 'job eliminations,' 'positions eliminated.'"
CNN's Jim Acosta and Lindy Royce contributed to this report.