There’s been more than 24 hours of social media furor over the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the federal government’s $18 million contribution to Special Olympics.
But at least some anger also has been directed at a cut that doesn’t really exist, amplified by media outlets who repeated a congressman’s misreading of a budget table.
When U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited a House education subcommittee on Tuesday, she was pressed on the budget by Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin. After sparring over Special Olympics, Pocan interrupted DeVos to talk about other programs.
“Also, we have cuts in the special education grants to states from $3 million to $2.2 million—a 26 percent cut,” Pocan said. “And then also in this budget, you have a $7.5 million cut to the National Technical Institute for the Blind, a $13 million cut for Gallaudet University, a $5 million cut for federal program for print books for blind ... I have two nephews with autism. What is it that we have a problem with, with children who are in special education? Why are we cutting all of these programs over and over again in this budget?”
Twitter jumped on this supposed 26 percent cut. One example:
The proposed budget includes a 26 percent reduction to state grants for special education and millions of dollars in cuts to programs for students who are blind. https://t.co/t8acxzOKeg
— Movement Voter Project (@MovementVote) March 27, 2019
A couple of things to note: First, there is no proposed cut to special education grants to states, and a spokesman for Pocan acknowledged that the congressman misspoke. One of the Education Department’s proposed budget tables—which is in billions, not millions—shows about $840 million moving from a $3 billion allocation in fiscal year 2019 to the budget that is currently under debate, for fiscal year 2020. It looks like a cut from $3 billion to $2.2 billion, but it’s just a shift of when the dollars are going to be allocated.
In actuality, the Education Department requested the same amount of money in grants to states that it received last fiscal year, which is about $13.2 billion for infants through 21-year-olds.
For the other part of Pocan’s comments, the Education Department is proposing a $7 million cut to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (not “Blind,”) which would leave its funding at $70 million. Gallaudet University would see a cut in federal funding from $134 million to $121 million, and the American Printing House for the Blind would be cut from about $30 million to about $25 million.
(One cut that hasn’t gotten much attention: the proposed elimination of $12 million in funding for research on behalf of gifted students.)
All of those cuts are necessary to “support the President’s goal of increasing support for national security and public safety without adding to the Federal budget deficit,” the budget proposal says.
It’s important to say that these cuts are unlikely to go through as-is. For example, the Trump administration has tried to eliminate Special Olympics funding before, and the proposal didn’t pass under a GOP-led Congress. It’s even more unlikely to pass with Democrats in control of the House of Representatives.
But the frenzy shows that students with disabilities and special education remain sore spots for this administration.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.