On Tuesday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressed criticism from members of Congress — including some Republicans — over the Trump administration’s proposal to cut $17.6 million in funding for the Special Olympics.
Among those grilling DeVos was Rep. Mark Pocan (D., Wis.), who left the education secretary dumbfounded when he asked if she knew how many kids would be impacted by the proposed cuts.
“I’ll answer it for you, that’s OK, no problem,” Pocan said. “It’s 272,000 kids that are affected.”
“I think that the Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well," DeVos responded.
The Special Olympics received nearly $18 million in funding in last year’s budget, meaning the proposal would cut nearly all of its federal funding.
Criticism over the proposed cuts didn’t just come from members of Congress. Despite a shift away from politics under new president Jimmy Pitaro, several prominent personalities at ESPN went public with their disagreement over the proposed cuts.
SportsCenter host and Temple grad Kevin Negandhi, who has been part of ESPN’s coverage of the Special Olympics for the past five years, wrote on Twitter that the annual two-week competition “has a daily impact on athletes, families, friends, coaches, unified partners, volunteers.”
Negandhi also shared several stories of individual competitors, including 19-year-old Georgia high school student Joseph Bradley, who survived childhood abuse to win a gold medal in the English equestrian event at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi earlier this month.
“I was crying tears like a baby — full of joy,” Mary Bradley, Joseph’s mother, told the Montgomery Advertiser. “He accomplished what he said he was coming to do.”
Inspired by Negandhi’s tweets, the Pennsylvania chapter of the Special Olympics — which includes nearly 20,000 athletes and 55 local county programs — shared its own stories of local competitors.
Negandhi was far from the only ESPN personality who weighed in following DeVos’ testimony. espnW and ESPN Radio host Sarah Spain wrote that the exchange between DeVos and Pocan was “tough to watch.” Former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann — no stranger to politics — pointed out that in the same budget, executive salaries in the Department of Education would be raised by 15 percent.
“Our family supports [the] Special Olympics. Likewise the company I work for,” longtime SportsCenter personality Kenny Maybe wrote.
Around the Horn host Tony Reali unloaded in a multi-tweet threat, writing that the Special Olympics has the power to “instill & inspire positive change” and called the proposed cuts “a test for all.”
“We all vote... everyday of our lives. We all have a budget plan... everyday of our lives,” Reali added. “Look inward. We are all asked to include all people, everyday.”
DeVos’ budget proposal would cut more than $8.5 billion in spending from the Education Department, roughly 12 percent of its current budget, according to the Washington Post. Among other proposed cuts are the elimination of after-school programs for children in impoverished communities and grants for teacher development.
However, DeVos’ proposed budget includes a $60 million dollar increase in spending for charter schools and a $5 billion tax credit plan to help children attend private schools, a plan she described to lawmakers Tuesday as “education freedom.”
This is the third-straight year DeVos has been criticized for proposing cuts to the Special Olympics. Last year, DeVos proposed $12.5 million in cuts to the annual competition, but the final budget passed by Congress did not trim Special Olympics’ funding.