Washington (CNN) -- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stepped onto his bully pulpit Thursday, arguing for states to protect their education budgets.
He sent a letter to all 50 state governors outlining the flexibility that the governors have in spending federal education dollars, and giving them suggestions on how to manage their education resources during tight budget times.
Duncan told reporters during a conference call that several governors requested the information at last weekend's meeting of the National Governors Association.
"We just want folks to take advantage of what is currently available to them," Duncan said. "They can take it, they can leave it. It's totally up to them."
The letter acknowledges that state governments are facing "a critical need to cut spending where we can in order to invest where we must."
If cuts require teacher cuts, Duncan said "Layoffs should be based on a number of factors but the most important thing we can do is keep the best teachers in schools where they are needed most."
"The basic principle (is that) whether it's firing good young teachers -- which doesn't make sense, or firing great veteran teachers -- which doesn't make sense, we have to minimize the negative impact on students," he said.