Education News

Tell Betsy DeVos: Your budget still fails our special needs students

By Amanda Litvinov / AP Photo by Andrew Harnik 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos drew sharp criticism last week for defending her proposal to eliminate federal funding for Special Olympics. Specifically, her budget zeroed out the Unified Champion Schools program, which creates opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities to play sports together at school.

No one knows the value of that program better than retired Arkansas educator Donna Morey. For 35 years, Morey taught physical education, including adaptive gym classes and the Special Olympics program. Today she is the chair of the Special Olympics of Arkansas board.

Retired Arkansas educator Donna Morey.

Unified Champion Schools “doesn’t just pay for sports events for special needs kids. It’s designed to get all of our athletes, with and without special needs, working together and learning from each other,” Morey said.

She has seen the program benefit all participants, helping them develop skills, sensitivity, and even lifetime friendships. A decade of research shows the program increases inclusion and reduces bullying and teasing of students with intellectual disabilities.

Morey wasn’t surprised by the backlash to DeVos’ proposal to cut Special Olympics funding, a decision that President Trump reversed just days after DeVos defended her budget on Capitol Hill.

But as Morey and many other educators have said, the voices of those who spoke up to defend Special Olympics are desperately needed to advocate for the full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the main source of federal support for special needs students.

When Congress passed IDEA in 1975 to ensure that students with disabilities would have equal access to quality education, it promised the federal government would pay 40 percent of special education costs. The federal share of IDEA funding last year was just 14.6 percent, the lowest level since 2001.

Congress has never covered even half of its IDEA commitment. For decades, costs have shifted to the states, forcing them to choose between raising taxes and cutting critical services for all students. The underfunding of special education affects the entire school.

Morey saw the budget strain at her school in terms of staffing, classroom resources, and inadequate facilities.

“I worked with moderately to severely disabled students,” she said. “The variety of needs changed so much year to year. Some years you have students who use wheelchairs and need tube feedings.”

Morey, who served as president of the Arkansas Education Association from 2009-2013, says that while our overall understanding of intellectual disabilities has improved, schools have been left without the resources to respond quickly and effectively in every case.

Today, nearly 7 million students receive special education services.

Betsy DeVos’ 2020 budget proposal cuts the Department of Education by 10 percent, and asks for no increases to IDEA.

Some legislators are calling for change. Last week, the bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act was introduced in both the Senate and the House. The bill would achieve full funding of the special education law by increasing the federal share over 10 years.

“The federal government must stop shortchanging our students and make good on its commitment to fully fund IDEA,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who has championed the issue in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) co-sponsored the bill. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced companion legislation in the House.

According to a recent report by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, if IDEA were fully funded, every school could have an additional teacher’s assistant for every 12 students with disabilities, and there would be money left over.

Your voice matters. Tell Congress to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

54 responses to “Tell Betsy DeVos: Your budget still fails our special needs students

  1. As a parent of a special needs child & a person who works in a public school. Special Education & Special Olympics are JUST as important as “typical” education.
    Having no funding for these students is NOT what makes america great. We will NOT go back to institutionalizing people with special needs. Get your head out of the sand & fund IDEA.

    1. You are evil. You have underfunded public and special needs schools to fund charter schools. This is BULLS##T!!!

  2. Public schools admit everyone, while charter schools more often do not. Students with disabilities require additional resources and moreone-on-one interaction. These children and their families deserve to be treated with respect, diligence, and plain old humanity. They should be viewed as a priority rather than an afterthought.

  3. You must never have met a person with special needs. As a parent of two specials individuals it makes me mad that you have little or no value for my children.
    As an teacher of special needs students where I see them growing a learning everyday. These students are learning their ABILITY within their disabilities. Which gives them pride every day. I see these smiles but if you cut funding you want them to lose hope without the support they need or deserve.

  4. As a parent of a special needs child all I can say is Shame on you during your interviews your eyes told the story of lack of compassion al I have to say is you need to spend some time with special needs kids and you need to grow some compassion because you clearly don’t have any

  5. Betsy DeVos are you saying that “special needs” people are not living, breathing human beings that deserve the same respect, honor and treatment as all human beings? DO NOT CUT SPECIAL NEEDS FUNDING!! Perhaps we can drop all of our special needs students off at your office and you can educate them on a weekly basis!

    1. This budget does NOT reflect the needs of our children! Many of our needy children do not have someone able to speak up for them. Their teachers are their best hope for a better future.

  6. DeVos is a Trumper therefore she asks in an immoral manner when she talks about education and our children.

  7. This proposal by Betsy DeVos to cut funding for Special Olympics and reduce the federal monies to support Special Education should be the straw which breaks the camel’s back. It’s time for her to resign her position and replace her with someone with the knowledge, background, and humanity to be the Secretary of the Department of Education.

    1. Betsy DeVos’ proposal to cut Special Olympics funding and reduce the money needed to fund Special Education shows that from the beginning she has had neither the understanding nor the compassion needed to fill the position to which she was mistakenly appointed. It is long past time she resign her position as Secretary of the Dept. of Education or President Trump admit the catastrophic error he made in appointing her, and give her the boot now. It is my understanding that neither Mrs. DeVos nor her children were educated in our public schools AND SHE JUST DOESN’T GET IT.

    2. Please replace Betsy DeVos. We need to have someone in charge of education who understands the needs of public education and who will advocate for all students in a way that includes all our children living in our country. This is what will build a strong America.

  8. Every time I see you not answering questions posed to you by members of Congress it makes me wonder why you feel that you above answering the questions that are posed to you. What are you trying to hide. I work in a district where numerous Charter schools have been closed down after wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. These charter schools don’t want to be held accountable to questions posed by administration and law makers either. If I attempted to answer questions posed to me by my student’s parents like you do I would be fired. Answer questions posed to by Congress so that your plans and budget may be transparent to all of us who work hard to teach public school students.

  9. You and the rich Republicans gave yourself a trillion and a half tax cut and now you are cutting services to the poor people in need. Are you not ashamed? Do you have a heart?

    1. You tell her! No none of the horrible Trumpites have an idea! I call them that because like termites they invade sound structures!

  10. To take away funding from special education funds, is to rob my students of the books and materials they need to improve their academic skills. This robbery of funds is unthinkable. My kids need these supplies. We are barely getting by as it is.

  11. The needs outweigh the wants. The students need qualified individuals trained to give their best, the trained individuals need compensation for their difficult task; your lack of funding and reauthorization (or at least a desire to) represents a want of government to save money on the backs of vulnerable people.

  12. The goal of public education is about giving thequity for all students to learn and succeed. Cutting funding to public education in any way only further undermines this goal and creates gross inequities between the haves and have-nots. Your budget only reflects a lack of understanding in the needs of students and education in general.

  13. The hallmark of a civilized nation is to serve and proterct its citizens, beginning with those most in need.

  14. Ms. DeVos,
    You are utterly unfit for your position. You serve only you God and your wealthy friends. Most of all your utter disregard for our children is disgusting.

    1. She serves “God”? Whose God is so evil? Not mine, mine is a God of love. She is anything but loving!

  15. Reading this broke my heart. We are equal and deserve the same benefits from academics to physical wellness not too mention, emotional well being.

  16. the needs of special education students is just as important as those of traditional students – no cheating them of their educational needs

  17. A nation is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Our special needs children are those citizens. This budget must fully fund services for those kids. Fully fund IDEA!

    1. Please consider our children with Special Needs. Please fund students who are English Language Learners. You must consider all children but especially our most needy.

    2. We need to support all of our students in any schools. We need to honor and support public education and not keep supporting the charter schools that are taking funding away from regular public schools. Would you cut the Special Olympics if you were a parent / grandparent of a ‘special’ student? Probably not, let’s remember to provide every student in the public schools the opportunity to have the needed support.

      Yes, the Special Olympics is very special to and for the students, it brings so much possibility to / for those students. The program needs to be kept and not cut.
      Remember also, all of our students in public schools deserve adequate funding in order that eacn and every one can grow and develop ‘to be the best they can be’. Please, education is the basis of the country. All possibilities mus stay in place.

    3. Our nation must care for of its children regardless of their inate abilities. We cannot set them aside for just the crumbs of existance only when it comes to education. Wake up Miss Education Secretary.

  18. Congress must fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. All children deserve to be educated in our schools. Stop Betsy DeVos from destroying IDEA.

  19. As a teacher I believe that education of all our children should be the hugest priority. We need to make sure not only is IDEA fully funded, but all public schools are as well.

  20. As an educator working with special needs students, I strongly urge you to fully fund IDA. Failure to do so simply kicks the can down the raid and will ultimately cost us more money because these children won’t have developed the skills that they could have learned in school to become more functional. It’s a no brainer. And it’s also more humane and right.

  21. As a sped educator and someone who’s siblings have special needs, I am outrage over this bill. We are sending a truly ignorant message to society and persons living with special need. That message is their quality of life does not matter. We need to be their voice.

  22. Ads special education teacher I ask, for my students who don’t have a political voice .. yet!! please fulfill your commitment and find IDEA!!

  23. From Sec DeVos’s first day in her office her work to undermine IDEA and civil rights for the disabled. The IDEA link with a multitude of resources and info on the Dept of Ed website was taken down and replaced with a link to the bill in total legislative language and no explanation/help. It took months for any improvement was noted and still does not come close to that which was taken down.

  24. There is more to taking care of our needs children than special Olympics. It is extremely important but our children need so much more. Do NOT cut education programs……if anything cut some of the high paying jobs in your office and YOUR salary!!!

  25. DeVos & trump’s entire Administration is worse than the Mafia . We the people better start fighting for what’s ours , before these sick excuses for humans take it all away . WE NEED A REVOLUTION , we have our lifestyle to fight for .

  26. Charter schools don’t help public education. They hurt. Increased testing doesn’t help public education it just takes away from instruction time and shines a spotlight on problems we already know they exist. It costs more to educate students in poverty and students with special needs. Until our elected officials are willing to fund the necessary programs, nothing will change.

  27. Please make a smart decision when it comes to our kids that need the support to succeed in our inclusion and self-contained classrooms. The kids in Special Education are just like any other student in the school building. Yes these student struggle, and some give up because of the label. With Special Education you are helping the teachers guide the kids and give confidence to succeed outside of school.
    Unified Champions is a division of Special Olympics that creates a whole school commitment to all kids playing sports creating an atmosphere of good sportsmanship and friendship.
    So please when looking at Ms. Devos’s budget think about the whole school dynamic, especially with kids with Special Needs.

  28. The new tax plan, which attempts to give excuses for these “hard choices,” does not eliminate the necessity for the Disabilities Education Act. Not funding these individuals is yet another black mark showing the greed and unfeeling ignorance of this administration. Proposing a budget like this makes Americans ashamed and outraged because of how completely cruel, short-sighted and unethical it is. Reject the entire money-grab budget, reversed last year’s disastrous tax plan that caused the enormous debit, and fund the education of all our public schools and disabled students.

  29. I’m a retired Special Day Class teacher and I agree with this assessment. Instead of taking more money away from Special Education, causing more suffering, we should be advocating for the full funding of IDEA. That would manifest the ideals of public well being and equality that Lincoln talked about in government of the people, by the people, and for the people as well as what was laid out founding documents as a country.

  30. I am a Special Education Director and I can give evidence of this lack of funding. Our small rural unit serves three districts. Our students with disabilities enrollment increased this year however, our Federal allocation through the IDEA Part B Grant decreased. We are serving more students with less money. We will have to increase our allocation from our three public schools. So yes, this lack of funding effects all students not just students with disabilities. Please increase funding for Special Education.

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