WASHINGTON (AP) — Education Secretary Betsy Devos on Thursday faced a new round of scrutiny over a proposal to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics, a cut that lawmakers say is unlikely to be approved.
In an interview with reporter Morgan Wright, Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, said cutting funding would be a “terrible idea.“
“It has produced extraordinary rewards for so many young people,“ he said. “We’re going to make sure the president’s budget cuts do not happen and we preserve funding for Special Olympics.“
Democrats pressed DeVos on the topic during a Senate budget hearing Thursday, just days House Democrats grilled her on the proposal and sparked a wave of criticism online.
In a heated exchange with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., DeVos said she “wasn’t personally involved“ in pushing for elimination of the funding, but she defended it as her agency seeks to cut $7 billion for the 2020 budget.
“Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative,“ DeVos told Durbin. “That is just disgusting and it’s shameful and I think we should move on from that.“
Durbin countered that it would be shameful to pull support for the Special Olympics, saying “someone has to accept responsibility for a bad decision.“
The Trump administration’s education budget proposal calls for the elimination of $17.6 million in funding for the Special Olympics, amounting to roughly 10 percent of the group’s overall revenue. Most of its funding comes from individual and corporate contributions and other fundraising efforts.
DeVos said her department had to make “tough choices“ on the budget and insisted the Special Olympics should be supported through private donations.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., joined in on the criticism, telling DeVos that “this is not about tough choices, this is about you prioritizing your agenda over students with special needs.“
The proposed cut generated a storm of criticism from advocates and celebrities this week, with many rallying to support the organization.
Trump officials previously called for the elimination of Special Olympics funding in their budget proposal for 2019, but Congress rejected the idea. Lawmakers from both parties said they would reject it again for 2020.
Asked Thursday whether he supports the proposed cut, House Minority Leader Kevin, McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters, “No. I fully support Special Olympics.“
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said Wednesday that he also supports the group and would not cut it from the budget.
DeVos faced questioning on a range of topics Thursday, including her proposed rewrite of rules around campus sexual assault and her handling of for-profit colleges.
Murray said the Education Department has been too slow to process more than 100,000 applications for loan forgiveness from students who say they were cheated by for-profit colleges. DeVos previously delayed an Obama-era rule allowing such forgiveness, but a federal judge said the delay was unlawful.
Asked on Thursday how many applications had been approved since the judge’s order was issued, DeVos she didn’t know but that officials are “reviewing them regularly.“
Others criticized DeVos‘ department for being unresponsive to congressional requests for information. Blunt, chairman of the Senate subcommittee over the education budget, said he shared that concern.
“There are two or three departments we’re just not getting responses back form as quickly as we should,” Blunt told DeVos. “We’re you’re funding source and have an oversight responsibility in addition to that.”