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Betsy DeVos Defends Trump's Proposed Budget Cuts to Special Olympics and Other Disability Programs

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Update: On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Education Press Secretary Liz Hill told The Mighty, “The special Olympics raises more than $100 million philanthropically every year and while the Secretary is very personally supportive of their mission and work, the activities of special Olympics are better supported with other state, local and private funds.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended President Donald Trump’s 2020 Department of Education budget proposal during a House of Representatives subcommittee panel. The proposal requests slashing funds for programs that support students with disabilities, including the Special Olympics. Disability advocates said DeVos has prioritized charter and private schools over students with disabilities.

Trump has proposed his initial $4.7 trillion budget for 2020, of which $64 billion would be allocated to the Department of Education. This is a $7 billion — or 10 percent — cut from 2019’s budget. This would include significant cuts to a number of programs that support students with disabilities such as the Hellen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, American Printing House for the Blind, National Technical Institute for the Deaf and Gallaudet University, a school for students with hearing loss.

The proposed cuts would also eliminate the entire $17.6 million Special Olympics budget, which provided support to expand training initiatives within the sports program. When challenged during the hearing by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), DeVos said Special Olympics already has support from charitable donations.

“We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget,” DeVos said. “Let me say that Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well.”

DeVos donated nearly $50,000 of her salary to the organization in 2018.

Pocan asked DeVos if she was aware of how many students would be affected by cuts to the Special Olympics before telling her 272,000 kids would see support taken away. He also brought up other problematic cuts that would directly affect students with disabilities. “Why are we cutting all of these programs over and over?” Pocan asked.

Many people in the disability community are outraged by DeVos’ defense of the proposal.

The outlined proposal did commit resources to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including $13.2 billion in state grants to support early intervention services and education programs for students with disabilities. However, disability advocates point out the budget included a $60 million increase in funding for charter schools, a major DeVos initiative, funded in part by cuts to programs that benefit students with disabilities.

“How can you support this budget? I mean that genuinely,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) asked about rerouting funds to expand charter schools, according to the Detroit Free Press. “As secretary of the Department of Education, how can you support, even boast, about taking 10 percent … away from our teachers and students?”

This budget proposal is preliminary and it is likely many of the proposed cuts will be rejected or adjusted by Congress before it’s approved.

The Mighty has reached out to DeVos’ office and the Special Olympics and has yet to hear back.

Originally published: March 26, 2019
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