WASHINGTON — For the third year in a row, Democrats dinged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday for proposing to cut funds from the Special Olympics, after-school programs and support for students from low-income families.
The difference is that this time, Democrats control the House.
“The three education budgets from this administration have proposed the largest cuts to education funding in four decades. That’s since the department was created in 1979,” said Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who chairs the Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee, at a hearing on DeVos’ proposed 2020 budget.
“Madam Secretary, I have to say, and maybe it’s offensive: Shame on you,” DeLauro said.
Overall, DeVos proposed a 12% decrease in funding for her department for fiscal year 2020.
Lawmakers have rejected the Trump administration’s previous efforts, increasing the Education Department budget instead, even when Republicans controlled both the Senate and House.
Even though the secretary’s budget has even less of a chance of being adopted this year, it lays out a set of priorities for the administration — and gives advocacy groups plenty to complain about.
One proposal that has repeatedly gotten attention from lawmakers is DeVos’ suggestion to cut funding from Special Olympic events at schools.
“We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget,” DeVos responded when asked about the proposal by Rep. Marc Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, who said that more than 270,000 children benefit from those programs.
“I think the Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is supported by the philanthropic sector as well,” she said.
DeVos has personally supported the group. After proposing to cut the funding in her first budget, she announced that she would donate part of her salary to the organization. A spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that the secretary made the donation last year and added that DeVos is “personally supportive of Special Olympics and its mission.”
The proposed budget maintains the same level of funding for core special education programs, including grants to states under the department’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The secretary was also criticized at Tuesday’s hearing for eliminating money for the 21st Century Community Learning Center, which supports after-school and summer programs for students, particularly those who come from low-income families or attend low-performing schools.
“This year, I’m puzzled. You’re trying to cut it again, completely ignoring the strong evidence that parents support this program and in fact want more of it,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who’s the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Republican ranking member Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma commended DeVos for several aspects of her budget, including support for charter schools and for science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) programs, as well as expanding the Pell Grant program to students enrolled in short-term certificate programs.
But he called some of the proposed reductions “shortsighted,” including those to the federal TRIO programs, which provide support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The secretary’s budget requests new funds for K-12 school choice tax credits, called Education Freedom Scholarships. They could be used for both private and public schools. The agency is asking the Treasury Department for $5 billion a year for the new program.