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Special Olympics and Other Education Programs See Uncertain Future

On Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy Devos announced that the Department of Education would cut funding for the Special Olympics and other youth programs.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, Devos explained, “We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget.” Among the biggest highlights in the department’s budget proposal include a $17.6 million cut from the Special Olympics program. The new spending plan also aims to eliminate 29 Education Department programs, which the education committee justified by asserting that the programs in question “have achieved their original purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused, or unable to demonstrate effectiveness.”

Devos appeared before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. Photo: Erin Schaff/ New York Times

Devos appeared before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. Photo: Erin Schaff/New York Times

Devos was met with much criticism from House Democrats during the testimony. After Devos has said that difficult decisions were made, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), fired back, asserting that this cut “would affect 272,000 kids around the country.” Pocan also added, “What is it that we have a problem with — with children who are in special education? Why are we cutting all of these programs over and over within this budget?”

Rep. Pocan was one of many House Democrats who grilled Devos during the testimony. Photo: Tom Williams/ AP

Rep. Pocan was one of many House Democrats who grilled Devos during the testimony. Photo: Tom Williams/AP

Following the testimony, Devos continued to be subject of backlash for her comments during the hearing. Mike Ruspel, a recent retiree as an adaptive physical education teacher, shared how important the Special Olympics are for everyone in the community. Ruspil said, “It's about educating all students at a school about how we are all different and we are all the same. And it's about respect and acceptance.”

This is not the first time Devos has been under hot water in her term as the Education Secretary. During Devos’s confirmation hearing in January 2017, she suggested the issues surrounding the Disabilities Education Act would “be best left for the states [to decide].”

After Devos had appeared before a Senate testimony on Thursday, President Donald Trump seemed to backpedal on Devos’s comments made during her hearing. Before embarking to a rally in Michigan, President Trump told reporters, “I heard about it in the morning. I have overridden my people. We’re funding the Special Olympics.”

President Trump said that he would override the Department’s decision and fund the Special Olympics. Photo: Susan Walsh/ AP

President Trump said that he would override the Department’s decision and fund the Special Olympics. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Following President Trump’s approval to fund the Special Olympics, Devos drew a stark contrast to the statements made her testimony on Tuesday. In a statement, Devos noted, "I am pleased and grateful the President and I see eye to eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant. This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.”