WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stood firm on her proposal to cut funds for the Special Olympics on Wednesday, arguing that the organization doesn’t need federal backing because it can successfully raise private contributions.
“The Special Olympics is not a federal program. It’s a private organization. I love its work, and I have personally supported its mission. Because of its important work, it is able to raise more than $100 million every year,” DeVos said in a statement.
“There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don’t get a dime of federal grant money. But given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations,” she added.
DeVos, one of the wealthier members of Trump’s Cabinet, donated some of her salary last year to the group.
Her statement followed an outpouring of criticism over her proposal to cut 12% from the department’s budget — the third year in a row she has called for eliminating funding for Special Olympic events at schools.
Lawmakers have rejected DeVos’ previous proposals, appropriating $17.6 million for the Special Olympics last year. Her budget proposal has even a smaller chance of passing Congress this year now that Democrats control the House.
In a testy exchange at a budget hearing Tuesday, Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, asked DeVos about how many students would be impacted by the cut.
“We had to make some difficult decisions in this budget. I don’t know the number of kids,” DeVos said.
“I’ll answer it for you. It’s OK, no problem. It’s 272,000 kids,” Pocan responded.
On Wednesday, DeVos criticized the media and some members of Congress for spinning the facts to claim her department doesn’t support students with disabilities.
“Make no mistake: we are focused every day on raising expectations and improving outcomes for infants and toddlers, children and youth with disabilities, and are committed to confronting and addressing anything that stands in the way of their success,” she said.
The secretary pointed to the fact that she’s requesting $13.2 billion for grants to states under the department’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and another $225.6 million for teacher preparation, research and technical assistance to support children with disabilities. These requests would maintain level funding for the department’s core special education programs, as CNN has reported.
Overall, DeVos’ proposed budget would eliminate 29 programs for an annual savings of $6.7 billion. Some are duplicative, have achieved their original purpose, are narrowly focused, or unable to demonstrate their effectiveness, according to a department budget document.
At the hearing, DeVos acknowledged that Congress has rejected her previous requests to reduce her department’s budget.
“I also acknowledge that it’s easier to keep spending, to keep saying yes, and to keep saddling tomorrow’s generations with today’s growing debts,” she said.