Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Donald Trump says he will reverse proposed Special Olympics funding cuts

Department of Education had proposed $6.7bn in cuts, including to several areas of special needs education.

President Donald Trump spoke to reporters before he left for Grand Rapids, Michigan. Reuters
President Donald Trump spoke to reporters before he left for Grand Rapids, Michigan. Reuters

After public outrage, US President Donald Trump has gone against his education department's decision to end funding for the Special Olympics and slash the budget for special needs education to save $6.7 billion.

Mr Trump responded to a backlash from his Republican party and the Democrats, and from the public, against the proposals by Secretary of State for Education, Betsy DeVos.

“I have overridden my people. We’re funding the Special Olympics,” he said on Thursday, adding he had been to the Games before. "I think it’s incredible."

On March 11 the Department of Education unveiled its budget for the coming fiscal year. The proposal includes cuts to several areas of special needs education.

The cuts would have ended 29 programmes including the Special Olympics, which was to lose its $17.6 million in funding, or about 10 per cent of its overall budget.

Mr Trump said he did not hear about the proposed cuts to the organisation's funding until Thursday morning. But he did not give details on which cuts he would reverse.

The Special Olympics had asked supporters to add their names to a letter urging Congress to protect funding for their organisation.

Chairman of the Special Olympics, Tim Shriver, back from the highly successful World Games in Abu Dhabi, said the work the department funded was “critical to the future, not just of education in schools but of the country".

“Everywhere we look people are starving to be able to infuse our young people with the hope that comes from being inclusive, with the confidence that comes with seeing justice realised, with the joy that comes from exercise.”

The budget proposals stood in stark contrast to the success of the March Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi. About 7,000 athletes from around the world competed in 24 sports, in the largest games yet.

Ms DeVos responded positively to Mr Trump's announcement, despite spending the morning defending her proposals to Congress.

"I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue, that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant," she said in a statement.

"This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years."

One of Ms DeVos's fiercest critics, Democrat congressman Mark Pocan, said he was "extremely glad" of Mr Trump's decision.

"However, it shouldn't take public outcry and shaming to restore funding to one of our nation's most important special education programmes," Mr Pocan said.

He ended his statement with a vigorous nod to Mr Trump's overruling of Ms DeVos, saying: "And by the way, can someone pull Betsy from under the bus?"

On Wednesday Ms DeVos defended her budget, calling the Democrat reaction to it “unacceptable, shameful and counterproductive”.

The budget, she said, “supports our nation's seven million students with disabilities through a $13.2bn request for Idea funding [a federal grant for the education of children with disabilities].

"The budget also requests an additional $225.6m for competitively awarded grants to support teacher preparation, research and technical assistance to support students with disabilities.”

Trump officials previously called for the elimination of Special Olympics funding in their budget proposal for 2019, but Congress rejected the idea. Legislators from both parties said they would reject it again for 2020.

Updated: March 29, 2019 08:52 AM

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