Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos faced heavy criticism regarding her recent proposal to cut the Special Olympics’ funding.
Dating back to 1968, the Special Olympics is an organization recognized by the International Olympic Committee and features over five million athletes with intellectual disabilities across 172 countries. President Donald Trump reversed the decision following public outrage — but Devos’ proposed budget cuts dive much deeper than the Special Olympics.
Major budget cuts to 29 different educational programs will take place — budget cuts that DeVos describes as a “commitment to spending taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently by consolidating and eliminating ineffective federal programs that are better handled at the state or local level.” These programs include Alaska Native Education, Arts in Education and Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants, as well as many after-school programs that are utilized by students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Other proposed budget cuts include foreign language programs and the Native Hawaiian Education program.
Overall, the plan seeks to limit the federal government’s role in education and promote state funding for the expansion of charter schools. Under DeVos’ plan, families would receive monetary vouchers as provided by their states to be able to choose which charter school they want for their child. This model is also known as a “neoliberal” approach to education, an approach which many education professionals see as harmful to children’s education. The National Education Association (NEA) claims that awarding vouchers to families would only harm low-income families. In addition, charter schools have the option to reject attendees based on any criteria they do not deem suitable for their institution.
A charter school is a school that operates independently of the residential public school district while still receiving government funding. Because charter schools receive government funding, they are legally required to abide by federal law. For example, charter schools must provide free, appropriate public education for those with special needs as required by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).
In a study Columbia University published, researchers sent fictitious emails to over 6,400 charter schools and their assigned public schools indicating interest in enrollment for their child with an assigned attribute such as behavioral problems, low academic achievement and other special needs. The study reported significantly fewer responses from the charter schools than the public schools, demonstrating a lack of interest to enroll students with disabilities. The study also noted a two percent decrease in responses to inquiries from students with “Hispanic-sounding names” as opposed to their public school counterparts.
Many studies have also reported charter schools discriminatory practices, like kicking out students with special needs before standardized testing — such as the case with schools in Nashville, Tennessee in 2013- so as to not lower the school’s overall standardized test performance.
While Trump does has reversed the funding cuts of the Special Olympics – despite the administration’s attempt to do so for the past three years – he fully supports DeVos’ school choice model despite their history of segregation and discrimination against those with disabilities.
For a collection of studies concerning charter schools, students can visit Huffpost. The Department of Education website has a list of documents regarding the administration’s current education plans and budget for 2019 at https://www2.ed.gov
Sam Walsh is a third-year student majoring in special education and English. SW850037@wcupa.edu