Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was embattled in a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday. She was there to defend at least $7 billion in proposed cuts to education programs, including eliminating all $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics.
DeVos faced questioning from Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan. He pushed DeVos on her proposed cuts to the Special Olympics and other special education programs during her testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee.
Pocan asked whether she knew how many children would be affected by the elimination of federal funding to the Special Olympics. DeVos responded by saying that she did not know.
“I’ll answer it for you, that’s OK, no problem,” Pocan said. “It’s 272,000 kids that are affected.”
DeVos responded, “I think that the Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well.”
Pocan became aggressive and interrupted Devos, pointing out that the proposed budget includes a 26 percent reduction to state grants for special education and millions of dollars in cuts to programs for students who are blind.
Pocan referred to his own nephews who have autism and asked DeVos, “What is it that we have a problem with, with children who are in special education?”
She replied, “Supporting children with special needs, we have continued to hold that funding at a level amount and in the context of a budget proposal that is a 10 percent reduction.”
The congressman stopped DeVos and maintained that she was not answering his question.
Pocan wasn’t alone in the committee with criticism for DeVos over the proposed cuts to special education.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., noted that past proposed budgets also attempted to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics.
“I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget,” Lee said Tuesday. “You zero that out. It’s appalling.”
The Trump administration targeted education spending in both of the previous budget proposals, but Congress actually increased spending for the department’s programs that help students with learning disabilities last year, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. It was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and it works with more than 5 million athletes across 174 countries, according to the Special Olympics website.