Yesterday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos acknowledged that yes, she has proposed to cut the $17.6 million that funds the Special Olympics, from the US education budget next year. And I get it — sometimes you see something on the news about the government that sounds so improbably cruel, that you think, that can’t possibly be the whole story.

But, well, that is the whole story.

It’s all here in the Department of Education 2020 Budget Summary (PDF) which indicates an overall 10% cut to education in the US, which would make it the third year of cuts to our kids’ education in a row.

The Special Olympics defunding specifically would eliminate sports, clubs, and activities in Unified Champion Schools programs, impacting 7,500 participant schools in 2020.

Related: 8 outstanding books that teach empathy for kids with special needs

DeVos defended her proposal by stating “The Special Olympics is not a federal program. It’s a private organization.” And yet, where would the money be reallocated?

Toward private schools, in the form of tax credits to be used toward scholarships.

And toward privatized public education, in the form of an increase in Charter schools grants to half a billion dollars, from $400 million in 2018.

(Not surprising considered DeVos’s background as a highly-paid lobbyist for privatized public education and for-profit charters, even with a  history of those efforts creating massive failures in Michigan’s educational system that have all but destroyed the K-12 public schools without providing higher-performing alternatives.)

Notably, in the proposed, education budget the Special Education Grants to states gets no increase in funding while there are proposed decreases to The Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, as well as Special Institutions for Persons with Disabilities. Among the 29 programs proposed for elimination entirely, in addition to the Special Olympics, is Arts in Education which emphasizes serving students from low-income families and students with disabilities,

So there’s clearly a pattern here. It’s not a a good one.

However I think important to point out that defunding the Special Olympics’ Unified Champion Schools programs doesn’t just impact the 272,000 differently-abled kids and those with intellectual disabilities who participate; these are programs that create inclusion, foster acceptance, and build leadership among all students, since these are programs designed to unify children of all abilities.

That means these programs influence the lives of hundreds of thousands of American kids for the better. As we all know spending time with people who are different from ourselves is proven to be the best way to create empathy and understanding in the world.

Related: At a time we need more feel-good stories, you should see what this hospital is doing for kids with special needs.

However there is some good news in all this: Congress is wildly unlikely to agree to a budget proposal that defunds the Special Olympics (though it’s still a good idea to contact your own representatives and express your views for the record). As Congresswoman Barbara Lee said, “I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget.”

Then she added, “it’s appalling.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Top image: Special Olympics

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Kris-Ann who alerted us to this online form to alert your representatives about your support for Special Olympics Funding, via Phone2Action.

If you’re interested in reading the primary source for this, please see the Department of Education 2020 Budget Summary (PDF) and in particular, jump to page 49: PROGRAMS PROPOSED FOR ELIMINATION

And if you’re looking for reasonable ways to find $17.6 million in the budget to help fund a program supporting some of the most vulnerable among us, the cost of 5 of Trump’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago private club alone would do it. Or shave a bit off the $92 million that taxpayers are paying for his frequent golf trips. Easy!

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