Photo: Lisa Audic

March 27, 2019; Washington Post

Perhaps Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wishes to strike the “for all” from “liberty and justice for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance. If this were true, that might help explain why her budget proposes to zero out $17.6 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics while increasing charter school funding by $60 million.

Special Olympics, DeVos says, is paid for by philanthropy; why should the federal government put any dollars towards it? (The Associated Press reports that in 2017, federal grants accounted for a little over 10 percent of the national organization’s $150 million budget.) This, however, is a strange argument to make, given that Philanthropy News Digest reported last year that “private funders have given nearly half a billion dollars since 2006 to fifty-two charter school support organizations,” to say nothing of donations made directly to charter schools themselves. Seems to us like the same dubious argument could be advanced to zero out federal charter school funding.

Most observers say the proposal will go exactly nowhere since the Special Olympics has wide bipartisan support. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Senate subcommittee over the education budget, rushed to declare, “Our Department of Education appropriations bill will not cut funding for the program.”

Meanwhile, DeVos continues to reinforce her image as tone-deaf and cash-insulated from an understanding of the legitimate role of government. The Associated Press reports that this is hardly the first time DeVos has managed to provoke the ire of advocates on disability rights:

Some were stunned by a 2017 Senate hearing in which DeVos, while being questioned about a federal law supporting students with disabilities, said it was “a matter that is best left to the states.” When asked if she is familiar with the federal law, she said she “may have confused it.”

DeVos again roiled advocates in December when she rescinded Obama-era guidance meant to protect racial minorities and students with disabilities from unwarranted discipline. In making the decision, DeVos said discipline decisions should be left to teachers and schools.

This is the second budget proposed by the Trump administration to zero out the Special Olympics Budget, a price tag almost exactly equivalent to the cost of President Trump’s last five government supported trips to Mar-a-Lago.

Let’s face it: It is hard to believe that this was a mere political gaffe. There is a clear declaration of sensibility in all of this, one consistent with the Trump administration’s but toxic to our ideals of the role of government in a democratic country devoted to equality and inclusion. It is up to civil society to call out each time such “Keep Out” flags are planted.—Ruth McCambridge