Pam's Points: What saving Special Olympics taught us

Pam's Points: What saving Special Olympics taught us

April 1st, 2019 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arrives for a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington last week. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Photo by Andrew Harnik

Was Trump's reversal on Special Olympics funding really a surprise? It shouldn't have been.

Talking to reporters last week and saying that he'd talked to his "people" to get the funding restored, our president made it sound as if it were all just misunderstanding: "I have overridden my people," he told reporters in one of his White House lawn moments with microphones and cameras surrounding him.

But the reality is that Trump has asked Congress to cut federal funding for the Special Olympics in all three budgets he has submitted since he took office. Congress always intervened. But this time, facing a publicity firestorm, he insisted that he didn't learn about the controversy until Thursday morning. Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent three days being fricasseed by Congress and the media over the budget line item that totals $17.6 million. (By the way, that's about five presidential trips to Mar-a-Lago, if you divide it by the $3.4 million per trip calculated by the Government Accountability Office shortly after Trump took office.)

The Washington Post's James Hohmann took the Special Olympics story apart Friday to examine what the reversal reveals about the Trump presidency — especially since both Republican and Democratic Congress members once again wouldn't have allowed the funding to be cut for the popular teaching program that promotes inclusion and prevents bullying of people with intellectual disabilities through athletic competitions.

Holmann postulates that it's possible the president didn't know he signed off on the cuts — meaning he's outsourced most policymaking to conservative ideologues such as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Note: DeVos, who defended the cuts before the Senate, suddenly insisted after the president's reversal that she had been against the planned cuts and fought them. She blamed the Office of Management and Budget — whence Mulvaney came.

Either way, posits Hohmann, once again Trump is looking to get credit for cleaning up a mess of his own making, especially when the mess looks like disappointed parents and children in 2020 campaign ads.

 

Axing other special education

Perhaps more telling is what the rest of the education budgets reveals about Trump's claim of "making (or keeping, if you're thinking of his new 2020 campaign slogan) America great again."

The Trump budget asks Congress this year to cut U.S. Education Department spending by more than $8.5 billion — that's billion with a B — or about 12 percent.

Also on the chopping block, according to The Washington Post, is the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Program, which underwrites school safety efforts, including mental health services. Wait, after the Parkland school shooting, weren't we all agreeing that counselors were more important than teachers with guns?

Trump's budget also would ax after-school activities for children who live in impoverished communities, $7.5 million from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, $13 million from Gallaudet University that also serves the deaf, and $5 million from the American Printing House for the Blind, a federal program that produces books for blind students.

But DeVos and the Education Department found $5 billion in public money for private and religious schooling, as well as $60 million for the Charter Schools Program which pays to create and expand charter schools.

 

But there's more

The Education Department isn't the only vehicle the Trump administration is using to slash funding that benefits the disabled.

The proposed budget zeros out funding for Department of Health and Human Services programs relating to autism, including a developmental disabilities surveillance and research program, autism education, early detection and intervention, and the interagency autism coordinating committee, according to figures provided by the Arc, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The Post also reports that Trump's budget proposal seeks a 30 percent cut to the Office of Disability Employment within the Department of Labor and a $10 billion dollar cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which provides benefits to disabled workers. The 2020 budget also proposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which provide some health care coverage to those with disabilities, according to the Power Up newsletter.

 

Then there's what's ignored

Meanwhile, The Post notes, DeVos acknowledged during her Senate appearance that she has not begun implementing an Obama-era regulation to ensure children of color are not disproportionately punished or sent to special-education classrooms — despite a judge's rebuke and court order to do so.

DeVos said her department is still "reviewing" the court's decision from three weeks ago.

The rules were supposed to have taken effect in 2018.

It's not hard to see where Trump's education priorities are.

If a little outrage could force a reversal on Special Olympics, let's turn up the heat on those other important educational needs.

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