Betsy DeVos Cuts ALL Special Olympics Funding, Because That's What Disney Villains Do!
Just when you were sure that Betsy DeVos could not get any more objectively evil, the Wicked Witch of Amway is now proud to announce that she has cut all Department of Education funding for the Special Olympics from her budget, which she claims is better supported by philanthropy and other federal and state funds. DeVos presented the budget, which will cut $7 billion from much-needed programs, at a hearing on Monday.
Did anyone ask her to do this? Are there really people out there begging for the Special Olympics to get defunded? Is this not something we can all agree is objectively monstrous? I'd like to think so, but I'll admit that I've become rather jaded in the past few years regarding what people will and will not recognize as straight up Disney villain behavior when they see it.
DeVos might have had a reasonable argument if all she were referring to was the actual Special Olympics. She could perhaps have an argument there that it isn't within the specific purview of the Department of Education. However, the program DeVos is cutting federal funding to is the Special Olympics Unified Champions education program, which seeks to help students with disabilities feel included and welcome at their schools.
The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is aimed at promoting social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change. With sports as the foundation, the three component model offers a unique combination of effective activities that equip young people with tools and training to create sports, classroom and school climates of acceptance. These are school climates where students with disabilities feel welcome and are routinely included in, and feel a part of, all activities, opportunities and functions.
This is accomplished by implementing inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership opportunities, and whole school engagement. The program is designed to be woven into the fabric of the school, enhancing current efforts and providing rich opportunities that lead to meaningful change in creating a socially inclusive school that supports and engages all learners. What a Unified Champion School "looks like" can vary greatly from school to school, based on the needs, goals, schedules and other factors unique to each school; but the basic building blocks remain the same.
Wow, that sure sounds like a very nice and useful program that improves the educational experience of students with special needs.
In addition to the $17.6 million cut to the Special Olympics, DeVos is proposing cutting 10% from the Department's total budget. As a Republican and rich lady whose vast fortune is derived from a pyramid scheme, DeVos stands to personally benefit from educating people as little as possible. Especially in the areas of "American History and Civics Education." Would you like to see some "Programs Proposed for Elimination"?
Now, this may seem like typical Republican "fuck the less fortunate as much as humanly possible" bullshit, but there's a bigger picture here. The idea that programs like these -- and all programs meant to help people, period -- should be funded by individual giving rather than through federal grants is becoming increasingly popular on the Right, due to the increasing influence of anarcho-capitalism. It's a whole thing.
But they still tend to be hypocritical when it comes to things they like, that don't help anybody or only help the very rich. After cutting funding for programs that actually help people, DeVos is asking for an extra $60 million in government funds for her precious charter schools (on top of the $440 million they were already getting), which apparently she thinks are not "better supported by philanthropy." Funny how that works!
During the hearing, Rep, Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) brought up some of the more notorious problems with charter schools and the amount of money they waste.
DeLauro asked DeVos about a report by an education advocacy group that found the department did not provide effective oversight of states that receive charter school funding, and that the government wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never opened or have "precipitously" closed. [...]
"It sounds like you are saying, 'This is not our job.' Can you explain how you think not stopping known waste fraud and abuse in the Charter School Program is not the department's job?" DeLauro said.
DeVos said her department is "very aware" of the issues raised by the report.
"It actually covers practices that long predate this administration," DeVos said.
"We are very keen to ensure that the concerns raised are addressed," adding that she's looking to Congress to authorize "more flexibility" for charter schools.
"Madame Secretary, it would appear to me that based on this report and other reports that charter schools have enormous flexibility, and there seems to be no one who is overseeing how that flexibility translates into the use of federal dollars," DeLauro said, noting DeVos' request for an increase of $60 million in funding for charters.
"That's irresponsible in terms of your job with regard to oversight."
DeLauro also criticized DeVos' terrible proposal for $5 billion to fund school voucher programs by giving rich people tax credits for donating scholarships to private schools, calling it an unregulated "tax scheme" that would "undermine our public school programs." Which it is.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) also let ol' Betsy have it, attempting to force her to answer several questions on the cuts to programs helping special needs students and the money going towards charter schools despite how badly they screwed up the last time we gave them money.
Charter schools, notably, have been heavily criticized for how they deal with (or, rather, don't deal with) students with special needs. Unlike public schools, they are not legally obligated to educate special needs students. They also probably shouldn't, given that things like high teacher turnover rates and a tendency to randomly shut down entirely in the middle of the year make charter schools a bad idea for students who need consistency.
Also, fuck charter schools.
In addition to these cuts, DeVos also proposed some pretty terrible rule changes to how colleges handle campus sexual assault -- for instance, it will no longer be the school's problem if a student is sexually assaulted by another student off campus, for instance at a fraternity house that is not on school property -- and eliminated disciplinary guidelines meant to protect students of color, which DeVos said she felt were racist against white students.
This is, indeed, the worst freaking timeline.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse