Sen. Durbin: Whoever Proposed Cutting Special Olympics Funding Gets a ‘Gold Medal for Insensitivity’

By Melanie Arter | March 28, 2019 | 8:25pm EDT
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) (Screenshot)

( – Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) questioned Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday about who was responsible for cutting $18 million from the department’s proposed 2020 budget for the Special Olympics, adding that whoever is responsible deserves “a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity.”

During a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the department’s proposed budget, Durbin asked, “There’s been some press reports about your testimony yesterday about the Special Olympics, and I hope we can get that clarified here. Did you personally approve the elimination of the $18 million from your budget to help the Special Olympics?”


“Senator, as you know, budget process within the administration is a collaborative one, and it’s been my responsibility to present the budget here on behalf of the administration – the president’s budget,” DeVos said.

“As I said then, and I’ll say again, this week we had to make tough choices and decisions around the budget priorities, and we elected to hold harmless Title I and IDA funding and funding for English language learners, knowing that that’s going to really reach the greatest number of students,” she added.


When asked if she personally approved of the cut in funding for the Special Olympics, DeVos said, “No, I didn’t personally get involved in that.”

“Well I want to tell you, whoever came up with that idea at OMB gets a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity,” Durbin said.

"To think that we can’t spend $18 million to support this dramatically successful venture, which incidentally started in Chicago, Illinois, and now it reaches countries all across the world – millions of young people with disabilities,” he added.

Durbin suggested an area where the department could save money that could be applied to the budget for the Special Olympics is by taking away funding for for-profit schools.


DURBIN: Let me tell you an area where I think you can save some money for Special Olympics and other worthy causes. We know that nine percent of post-secondary students go to for-profit colleges and universities. Do you know what percentage of the student loan defaults – total student loan defaults in the United States involve students from for-profit colleges and universities?

DEVOS: 34 percent.

DURBIN: 34 percent. Nine percent of the students coming out of post-secondary schools go to for-profit schools, but 34 percent of all student loan defaults are the students from these schools. They’re being asked to pay too much for worthless training and education.

They drop out, heavily in debt with nothing to show for it, or end up completing the course and again, can’t find a job to pay off their loans. So let me ask you again, as Senator Murray has. Don’t you have a heart when it comes to 140,000 of these victim students who are trying through the Borrower Defense Rule to get relief from the fraud that was perpetrated on them by these schools. Why is it taking so long for your department to give these students a break?

DEVOS: Senator, no student should be defrauded and if fraud is involved, there are consequences, and there will be consequences, but we should not be judging institutions by their tax status, and let’s be very honest here. There are bad actors on both sides of the equation.

DURBIN: But 34 percent of the student loan defaults come from this one branch of tax status for-profit colleges and universities.

DEVOS: And we should not be judging by tax status but by results – results for students.

DURBIN: What are the results if 34 percent are defaulting?

DEVOS: Let’s talk about the ones that are doing a great job for students, such as Monroe College in New York, Strayer--

DURBIN: 6,000 students at Monroe.

DEVOS: And let’s talk about the non-profits that are doing a bad job, that are subject to bribes. They’re cheating. They’re lying in order to improve their U.S. News and World Report statistics.

DURBIN: Monroe College has 6,000 students. There are 140,000 victim students waiting for your department to give them relief so they can get on with their lives. You’ve got a court order now, saying don’t delay it, and Senator Murray has said, why are you waiting? Why don’t you help these students? They need some help right now from this borrower defense rule.


In a statement Wednesday, DeVos called it “unacceptable, shameful and counterproductive that the media and some members of Congress have spun up falsehoods and fully misrepresented the facts.”

"Make no mistake: we are focused every day on raising expectations and improving outcomes for infants and toddlers, children and youth with disabilities, and are committed to confronting and addressing anything that stands in the way of their success,” she said.

DeVos pointed out that “the Special Olympics is not a federal program. It's a private organization.”

“I love its work, and I have personally supported its mission. Because of its important work, it is able to raise more than $100 million every year. There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don't get a dime of federal grant money. But given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations," she said.


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