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Betsy DeVos vs. the Special Olympics

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on budget on Capitol Hill in WashingtonCongress DeVos, Washington, USA - 26 Mar 2019Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on budget on Capitol Hill in WashingtonCongress DeVos, Washington, USA - 26 Mar 2019

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on budget on Capitol Hill

Andrew Harnik/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The latest cartoonishly evil headline to come out of the Trump administration involves Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ plan to cut funding for the Special Olympics. Is this actually true? Yes, and on Tuesday, lawmakers grilled DeVos over a budget proposal that includes over $7 billion in cuts to education programs, including several for those with special needs. The proposal eliminates all $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics, which is roughly a tenth of its total budget.

The most incisive line of questioning came from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who began his allotted time by asking DeVos if she thinks it’s acceptable for a school to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. DeVos refused to answer, only managing that “we have laws that cover discriminatory efforts.” When Pocan pressed her, she continued to demur. Pocan then pointed out that the budget provides money to charter schools that do discriminate.

Though the “Is discrimination bad?” question may seem like a softball, DeVos has had trouble with it in the past. As the Washington Post point out, when she was asked in a Congressional hearing in May 2017 whether private schools that accept federal funding should be allowed to discriminate, DeVos said it should be left up to the states.

In January, Second Lady Karen Pence came under fire for accepting a teaching job at a school that explicitly bars LGBTQ students and faculty. Vice President Mike Pence called the criticism of their right to discriminate “deeply offensive to us.”

On Tuesday, Pocan asked DeVos why she wants to increase funding for charter schools despite their 25-percent failure rate. She didn’t answer. He asked about why she wants to slash funding for special education grants to states, the National Technical Institute for the Blind, Gallaudet University (a private university for hearing-impaired students), a federal program for print books for blind students and more. “What is it that we have a problem with with children who are in special education?” Pocan asked. “Why are we cutting all of these programs over and over within this budget?

DeVos didn’t answer that, either, nor did she answer a question about why the overall funding for the Department of Education is being cut by 12 percent, but executive salary appropriations are being raised by 15 percent.

Pocan wasn’t the only member of Congress appalled by the budget proposal. “How can you support this budget,” asked Rep. Rosa Delauro (D-CT). “I mean that genuinely. You’re the secretary of the Department of Education. How can you support — or maybe even take pride in, or boast about — taking 10 percent … away from teachers and away from students?”

“Your cuts specifically target students of color, it’s unbelievable,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). “Low-income students. I just have say, Madam Secretary, that you have zeroed out Special Olympics, once again. I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget. You zero that out. It’s appalling.”

Pocan would later inform Devos that 272,000 children would be affected by the elimination of Special Olympics funding.

Devos smiled while talking about “difficult decisions” and explained how she doesn’t want to “saddle tomorrow’s generations with today’s growing debt.”

As former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich noted on Twitter, there are plenty of ways to balance outside of hamstringing programs for disabled children, which shouldn’t have even been under consideration. “Cuts to autism funding and ending all for @SpecialOlympics is outrageous,” he wrote. “When I was chair of the House Budget Cmte, we worked to balance the budget & these types of programs were off limits – for good reason. Hope ldrs in DC stop this ridiculous proposal.”

One way to make up the $18 million in Special Olympics funding the Trump administration deems frivolous would be for the president to take five fewer trips to Mar-a-Lago, which cost taxpayers nearly four million dollars a pop.

The administration could also scrap plans to build Trump’s multi-billion-dollar vanity project along the southern border. That’d work, too.

In This Article: Betsy DeVos


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