Proposed DOE Budget Cuts Go Far Beyond Special Olympics

The spotlight is on the loss of federal funds to the Special Olympics, but that is only part of the story. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told Congress "difficult decisions" had to be made when it came to $7.1 billion in cuts to the Department of Education.

Updated: With criticism mounting, President Trump has decided to change the proposed defunding of the Department of Education. For one program, at least.

"The Special Olympics will be funded. I just told my people, ‘I want to fund the special Olympics,'" Trump told reporters before leaving the White House on Thursday night for a rally in Michigan. "I heard about it this morning. I have overridden my people. We’re funding the Special Olympics."

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (pictured) went to Capitol Hill this week to be questioned by Congress on cuts to the Department of Education (DOE) in the proposed federal budget for 2020.

While much of the media attention had focused on her discussion with members of Congress about the $18 million in federal cuts to Special Olympics programs, those 272,000 students were not the ones who would be impacted by this proposed budget. For the third straight year, the administration seeks to cut funding to programs that provide services to the most vulnerable children and families, according to critics.

Twenty-nine programs would be eliminated if Congress passes this budget as written, which cuts the DOE budget by 10 percent, or $7.1 billion. Among those lost would be 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which support after-school programs; Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants, which fund evidence-based literacy instruction and intervention plans; and Title II Grant programs that help reduce class size and fund teacher professional development. The budget also offers money for vouchers or stipends for teachers to choose professional development options specifically suited to their needs.
The budget requests more money for school "choice," a cornerstone of the Trump Administration education plan, with an extra $60 million for the Charter Schools Program.

DeVos said difficult decisions needed to be made when it came to the budget, called the Special Olympics “awesome,” and noted that it is an organization with outside philanthropic support.

Following the coverage, DeVos released a statement today, accused the media of inaccurate reporting and reiterated that the Special Olympics gets private funding:

"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. 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."

DeVos’s Tuesday testimony was not limited to the budget, however. In a particularly contentious exchange on Tuesday, Devos refused to directly answer a question from Wisconsin congressman Mark Pocan about schools discriminating against students for gender or sexuality.

Do you think it’s all right for a school to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity? Pocan asked.

“We have laws that cover discriminatory efforts, and our Office for Civil Rights has continued to be very diligent in investigating any allegation of discrimination and will continue to do so,” Devos responded.

“So is that a yes or is that a no? I’m trying to get a yes or no, I guess, on that,” Pocan said.

“We follow the law as defined…”

“So, personally, you don’t have an opinion on it?” Pocan interrupted. “Because you are giving money to some charter schools that do discriminate.”

This was not the first time DeVos has faced questions about her stance on discrimination nor the first time she has refused to answer directly. And it is not the first time this proposed budget has been criticized. When it was released in last month, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten issued a statement in response to the proposal.

“This budget doesn’t fund the future; it does quite the opposite, forfeiting children by yet again cutting the education budget while safeguarding the tax cuts given to the wealthy last year. President Trump and Secretary DeVos have made a choice with this budget—enriching those who are rich and who don’t want for anything, on the backs of our children,” she said.

For the last two years, proposed budgets with similar suggested cuts were not approved.  In fact, the DOE budget was increased despite a Republican control of House and Senate. With a Democratic majority in the House now, it is even less likely this budget will pass, but newly empowered and outspoken educators who have seen success fighting for various issues with rallies and strikes around the country are not waiting to react to a congressional decision. They immediately began to speak out and prepare a plan for the worst-case scenario.

Jesse Hagopian, ethnic studies teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle, editor of the social justice periodical Rethinking Schools, and co-editor of the book Teaching for Black Lives, tweeted, “If any part of the cuts are approved, we need educators, students, and families to launch a #NationalEducationStrike.”

DeVos is scheduled to be back before Congress for more questioning on Thursday.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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