In her latest budget request to Congress, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed cutting Special Olympics funding by over $15 million while pumping more than $60 million into charter schools, the Detroit Free Press reports. On Tuesday, DeVos defended her proposals in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee on education, while committee chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro called DeVos' budget request "cruel and reckless."
In response to a request for comment from Bustle, Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill said that "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."
In totality, DeVos' budget request would result in $7 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, according to the Detroit Free Press. In addition to stripping funding from the Special Olympics, it would also cut existing funds devoted to improving classroom conditions, reducing class sizes and fostering professional development among teachers, the Detroit Free Press reports.
By suggesting that the U.S. government slash funding for the Special Olympics by $17.6 million, DeVos is essentially re-upping a request the Trump administration made in 2017, which it proposed cutting funding for the program by $12 million. It's worth noting, however, that neither the administration's 2017 budget nor DeVos' most recent one have been passed by Congress, let alone signed into law by the president. Given that Democrats control the House of Representatives, it's unlikely that DeVos' latest funding proposal will become law.
In her testimony before the House, DeVos — who in 2017 met with Special Olympics athletes and praised them on Twitter — explained the proposed cuts to the Special Olympics by saying that "we had to make some difficult decisions with this budget."
In a particularly contentious exchange, Rep. Mark Pocan asked DeVos to defend her proposed cuts to the Special Olympics and other programs that benefit disabled Americans, specifically blind and deaf students. Pocan singled out the budget's cut to funding for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf — which he mistakenly referred to as the National Technical Institute for the Blind — as well as Gallaudet University, which serves deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
"Why are we cutting all of these programs, over and over, within this budget?" Pocan asked.
"Well, sir, we have continued to retain the funding levels for IDEA and held that level, so in the context of —" DeVos began, referring to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"Sorry, I don't think I brought up IDEA," Pocan interjected. "I believe I brought up Special Olympics, special education grants to states, the National Technical Institute for the Blind [sic], Gallaudet University, federal program for printing books. So if you could address those, that's the question. I would really appreciate it."
"I will address the broader question around supporting students —" DeVos responded.
"Or if you could actually address the question I asked," Pocan said. "That's even a better way to answer a question."
"Supporting students with special needs, we have continued to hold that funding level — that funding at a level amount, and in the context of a budget proposal that is a 10 percent reduction —"
"All right, I'll reclaim my time," Pocan said. "You're not going to answer the question."
In total, DeVos' budget request would completely eliminate all funding for a total of 29 Department of Education programs, according to its own executive summary.