After a House Appropriations subcommittee on education grilled Betsy DeVos on her recommendation to cut all federal funding for the Special Olympics for the third year in a row, the secretary of Education was frustrated by how her plan was reported in “the media.” DeVos issued a statement on the coverage of her 2020 budget proposal for the Education Department, which cut $17.6 million in aid to the Special Olympics: “It is unacceptable, shameful, and counterproductive that the media and some members of Congress have spun up falsehoods and fully misrepresented the facts.”
DeVos describes the Special Olympics as one of “dozens of worthy nonprofits” supporting disabled Americans, and that it enjoys over $100 million in annual donations, unlike other programs which “don’t get a dime of federal grant money.” Just a few paragraphs after accusing reporters of spinning up falsehoods, DeVos states that “given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations.” To recap, DeVos claims that journalists and some House Democrats have “misrepresented” the 2020 ED budget, then immediately confirms what was already clear in the first place — DeVos has attempted to cut the Special Olympics funding from the budget for three years standing.
In the statement, DeVos describes the $13.2 billion for IDEA grants that fund the education of children with disabilities, and a $225.6 million request for grants to help support teachers in disabled classrooms. But DeVos does not mention that the 2020 plan would eliminate billions of dollars of grants designed to improve student achievement by reducing class size and improving school conditions. The 2020 budget would also cut special-education grants to states by 26 percent, and take funding away from programs benefiting deaf and blind students. As the Washington Post reports, further cuts include “one that supports after-school activities for children in impoverished communities, as well as a grant program for textbooks, equipment, counseling services and other needs for schools. That pool of money — the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program — also underwrites school safety efforts, including mental-health services and safety equipment.”
The Education Department’s proposed budget for 2020 cuts around $8.5 billion, or 12 percent, from the current budget, so it’s odd that DeVos — who donated a quarter of her salary to the Special Olympics last year — would attempt to nix federal funding of such a high-profile program when it’s unlikely the cuts will go through. The move lacks political efficacy, and the Special Olympics funding only makes up a fraction of a percent of the ED budget: the program, which supports thousands of disabled athletes, represents just .21 percent of the proposed budget cuts. “I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget,” Representative Barbara Lee told DeVos in her House subcommittee appearance this week. “You zero that out. It’s appalling.”