Worst Education Secretary Ever becomes evil rich stereotype
by Katelyn Cody
During a congressional budget hearing this past Tuesday, March 26th, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos defended the proposed cuts in funding to programs such as Special Olympics, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults. The 2020 Department of Education budget proposes a $17.6 million cut to Special Olympics. During the hearing on Tuesday, Rep. Pocan stated that this budget cut would result in 272,000 children with disabilities losing the support they receive from the organization. Thankfully, in the past Congress has blocked these proposed slashes in special education program budgets. However, the deeper problem here is not the lack of funding itself, but the willingness to cut funding to public programs that support students with disabilities. When money is tight and “tough decisions” need to be made (as DeVos claimed during the budget hearing), special education is often the first to be thrown on the cutting room floor.
So why is this money being cut? So Devos can have more room to fund charter schools. Increased funding for charter schools has become almost synonymous with DeVos’ term as Secretary of Education. Charter schools operate independently from the public education system, but unlike private schools, charter schools are still publicly funded. Charter schools have been thought of as an alternative solution to the problems that are paramount in the public education system currently. However, charter schools come with some downsides, they are unregulated and have a 25 percent failure rate. So, while Betsy DeVos continues to channel money into failing charter schools, the public school system in America loses funding and therefore doesn’t have the ability to build itself back up.
So why am I (and so many others) so upset that DeVos’ is favoring spending on charter schools rather Special Olympics and other programs for students with disabilities? Because charter schools do not have a good track record with special education. The fact that they are independent of the public education system and unregulated, means that most special ed students in charter schools do not receive adequate services, which they are technically required to receive under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In the public school system, any student who qualifies for special education services must receive them. Although, the quality of those services is a whole question and debate that you don’t need to get me started on right now.
Cutting a program like Special Olympics means cutting the support and empowerment this program offers individuals with intellectual disabilities. It means cutting the network of support offered to the families of these individuals to help them live their lives to the fullest. It means cutting awareness of intellectual disabilities and educating the general public on how to be more inclusive and accommodating of people who don’t behave just like them. The Special Olympics World Games were just held in Abu Dhabi from March 14th-21st and I loved reading all of the personal accounts from participants and their families through the Humans of New York Page. One of the stories featured was from a young mother who felt a sense of grief after being told her baby would have Down Syndrome, but then realized what a blessing her daughter was once she was born. Working in special education, I see these blessings grow and learn every day, just like their “normal peers.” However, I do not feel that the current administration sees people with disabilities the same as do, hence the willingness to cut the programs that provide them with much-needed assistance. Reading the stories from the Special Olympics World Games this past week has been so inspiring, especially because I hope that some of my students can make it there one day. But they won’t get that opportunity if they don’t have a federal government and an education system that is in their corner. We need the bigger picture because the teachers can only do so much if they and the programs they work with are not receiving adequate funding. I love my special education students and I am willing to do whatever it takes to fight for them and advocate for them, but until we have a society that cares about public education, and special education, in particular, we are not going to get very far.
*At the time of publication, President Trump has announced that his 2020 budget will no longer propose cuts to Special Olympics. I am thankful that the increased criticism has helped reverse this matter and I hope that going forward with this Democrat-controlled House we will see fewer budget cuts to public education and special education.