Betsy DeVos Really Doesn’t Feel the Government Needs to Fund Special Olympics

For the third year in a row, President Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed budget cuts to the Special Olympics program. If approved, the cuts will amount to just shy of $18 million. While not the only cut to education for the 2020 fiscal year, it is perhaps the one that has garnered the most attention and outrage among its supporters.

DeVos defended the decision, essentially explaining that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. “We had to make some difficult decisions.” Rep. Mark Pocan, whose nephews are autistic, put DeVos’s cuts into the context of a tangible, human toll rather than simply as dollars signs, informing her that the proposed cuts would affect 272,000 children. DeVos did not respond directly, but offered, “I think Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well.” Companies like Toyota and United Airlines are major sponsors of the Special Olympics, comprising most of the organization’s budget; the gesture of rescinding financial support from government is perhaps what is most despicable about cuts to the Special Olympics. (It’s worth noting that none of her previous years’ Special Olympics cuts ever made it to the final budget.)

However, the cut actually would affect well beyond a quarter of a million students, if you consider the impact that the Special Olympics programs have on schools as a whole. The organization shared an infographic on Twitter touting the benefits of their programming for entire student bodies. “Our work in schools has been statistically proven to increase inclusion & improve whole school communities for millions of young people with & without intellectual disabilities. #ChooseToInclude,” a claim supported by reports from both school staff and students.

Other cuts in the education budget are equally as devastating. Rep. Pocan highlighted that a quarter of the special education state grant funds are getting slashed and that millions of dollars of support are being cut from visually impaired students. Incredulous, he asked, “What is it that we have a problem with, with children who are in special education?” DeVos responded that the cuts were not targeted but rather were commensurate with other budgetary reductions.

Representative Rosa DeLauro had her own pointed criticisms of DeVos’s proposal, suggesting it will affect not just the students but also the low- and middle-income families of these students. “How can you support this budget? I mean that genuinely,” she said. “As secretary of the Department of Education, how can you support, even boast, about taking 10 percent … away from our teachers and students?” DeVos, meanwhile, proposed tax credits for individuals and corporations who donate funds to scholarship programs at private schools.

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