Betsy DeVos under fire over funding cuts for Special Olympics

House Democrats grilled Betsy DeVos Tuesday over the education secretary’s latest budget proposal, which boosts appropriations for charter schools while slashing $17.6 million in funding for the Special Olympics.

During a contentious hearing before the House education appropriations subcommittee, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., pushed DeVos on the proposed cuts to the Special Olympics, a sports competition for disabled athletes.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifying at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 26, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

“Do you know how many kids are going to be affected by that cut, Madam Secretary?” Pocan asked.

“Mr. Pocan, let me just say again, we had to make some difficult decisions with this budget —” DeVos replied.

“Again, this is a question about many kids, not about the budget —” Pocan interjected.

“I don’t know the number —” said DeVos.

“It’s 272,000 kids,” Pocan interjected.

“Let me just say that I think Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well,” DeVos said.

Overall, DeVos's proposal cuts the education budget by $7 billion, or 10 percent of the current level of funding. At the same time, it would raise charter school funding by $60 million.

The budget submitted by the administration and Cabinet agencies invariably gets overhauled by Congress, and is usually regarded as largely symbolic.

As word of the exchange and DeVos’s budget request spread across social networking sites, others began to criticize the plan.

DeVos sought to quell the growing anger over her budget request with a statement released Wednesday that made the case that Special Olympics already received ample funds from private donations.

“There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don’t get a dime of federal grant money,” DeVos said in the statement. “But given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations.”

Asked to comment on DeVos’s budget proposal, Special Olympics communications director Tara Baker told Yahoo News that progress has been made in recent years in “eliminating the stigma, stereotypes, isolation and discrimination” for people with intellectual disabilities.

“We ask federal, state and local governments to join Special Olympics in remaining vigilant against any erosion of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with ID [intellectual disabilities],” Baker said in an emailed statement. “As is the case each year after the President presents his budget to Congress, we engage in opportunities, such as our annual Capitol Hill Day activities, to educate lawmakers about why grant funding for our health and education programming is critical to protecting and increasing access to these services for people with intellectual disabilities. We look forward to continuing to raise awareness among U.S. government officials about the important work that Special Olympics is doing in the United States and around the world.”

The 2019 Special Olympics were held last week in Abu Dhabi, and DeVos tweeted her support for the organization in February.

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