Special Olympics cuts come under fire as DeVos faces budget questions

(Gray News) – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced contentious questioning on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, particularly over the Trump administration’s proposed 2020 budget that would eliminate millions in funding for Special Olympics education programs.

The Education Department has asked to end funding for the programs, which are meant to support awareness of and encourage participation in the Special Olympics. The programs were awarded about $17.5 million in grants by the department last year.

Education Department documents argue “such activities are better supported with other federal, state, local, or private funds.”

“The elimination of funding for this program will also allow the department to provide strong support for state formula grant programs – including special education grants to states – while maintaining the fiscal discipline required to meet the president’s deficit reduction goals,” an Education Department budget overview states.

DeVos faces questions over Education budget from Wisconsin Rep. Pocan

In a hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-WI, asked DeVos, “Do you know how many kids are going to be affected by that cut?”

“We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget,” she answered. “I don’t know the number of kids.”

“It’s 272,000 kids,” Pocan replied.

DeVos added that she thinks the Special Olympics is an “awesome organization” but already “well-supported by the philanthropic sector.”

Pocan also criticized cuts to special education grants for states and higher education grants earmarked for schools that specialize in serving blind and deaf students.

The Education Department budget is calling for an overall reduction of 10 percent from 2019 levels.

In prepared remarks, DeVos said it is “easier to keep spending, to keep saying ‘yes,’ and to keep saddling tomorrow’s generations with today’s growing debt.”

Education Department funding for Special Olympics programs has steadily risen by $2-3 million each year the last few years, from $7.5 million in 2015.

According to the organization’s 2017 financial statement, the Special Olympics received about 10 percent of its revenues from federal grants. About 16 percent of its expenses, $21.2 million, went toward public education and communication.

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