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By Doha Madani
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos struggled before a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday to defend at least $7 billion in proposed cuts to education programs, including eliminating all $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics.
Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan pushed DeVos on her proposed cuts to the Special Olympics and other special education programs during her testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee.
When Pocan asked whether she knew how many children would be affected by the elimination of federal funding to the Special Olympics, DeVos said she did not know.
“I’ll answer it for you, that’s OK, no problem,” Pocan said. “It’s 272,000 kids that are affected.”
DeVos responded, “I think that the Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well.”
Pocan at that point interrupted the education secretary to point out that 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.
After referring to his own nephews with autism, Pocan asked Devos, “What is it that we have a problem with, with children who are in special education?”
She replied, “Supporting children with special needs, we have continued to hold that funding at a level amount and in the context of a budget proposal that is a 10 percent reduction.”
The congressman stopped DeVos and claimed she was not answering his question.
Pocan wasn’t the only House member to criticize DeVos over the proposed cuts to special education.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., noted that past proposed budgets also attempted to eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics.
“I still can’t understand why you would go after disabled children in your budget,” Lee said Tuesday. “You zero that out. It’s appalling.”
The Trump administration’s proposed education budget includes about $2 billion in cuts to Pell Grants on top of billions in reductions to about 30 other programs, according to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee.
Trump also targeted education spending in both of his previous budget proposals, but Congress actually increased spending for the department’s programs that help students with learning disabilities last year, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
The Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual and physical disabilities. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, it works with more than 5 million athletes across 174 countries, according to the Special Olympics website.
The organization receives some funding from the U.S. government but also has sponsorships from private companies. Some of the program’s listed sponsors include United Airlines, Toyota and The Procter & Gamble Co..
The Special Olympics did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.