Without massive intervention, school districts and state governments across the country will have to cut about $80 billion from education programs and lay off as many as 600,000 educational professionals to meet budget requirements, a University of Washington study, released this week, found.

As President Obama’s economic stimulus package moves toward final passage in Congress, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters that the University of Washington numbers troubled him tremendously but that with passage of the economic recovery bill, new funding could turn those dire predictions around.

‘Everyone knows that this is a time of economic crisis. I’ve been arguing that this is a time of educational crisis as well,’ Duncan emphasized. ‘I’m just convinced that we have to educate our way to a better economy.’

Duncan described the economic recovery package as an historic opportunity to help fulfill President Obama’s campaign pledge to allocate serious new investments in education. Duncan said that the administration’s approach to educational provisions in the stimulus package encompasses three general aims: protect children, save or create jobs, and advance a significant reform agenda.

‘This is a time of national crisis, both economically and education, but also a time of extraordinary opportunity,’ Duncan added.

The Education Secretary touted the provisions of the stimulus bill that will directly and indirectly promote education at all levels across the country. About $115 billion allocated in the economic stimulus package will directly fund education programs, help modernize education infrastructure, and allow states and school districts avoid onerous budget cuts, Duncan noted.

Primarily, the state stabilization fund will include about $54 billion to help states avoid deep budget cuts, most of which have historically been aimed at public schools and universities. Some of that money will be targeted directly toward improving school infrastructure. About $5 billion will go into what Duncan called ‘the race to the top fund,’ which will help improve information technologies to track student progress, provide professional development for teachers, and reward teachers who demonstrate excellence.

The stimulus package will also significantly boost funding by $13 billion for so-called Title I public schools in low-income areas or that serve poor children. Additional allocations were made for special education ($12 billion) and early childhood education programs ($5 billion). A significant tax credit has also been created to provide incentive for renovation and construction projects.

Approximately $32 billion has been set aside to increased the size of Pell Grants and for a tax credit for families with children in college, in order to increase the affordability of higher education.

‘It’s an extraordinary opportunity to save jobs, create jobs and really push this reform agenda,’ Duncan argued.

Duncan also pledged to work with states and districts to promote flexibility on the use of funds to ensure the most efficient and cost-effective use of federal dollars.

Both national teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have praised the boost to education funds contained in the bill, but expressed disappointment that provisions in the compromise package fell below the education funding in the original House bill.