Secretary of Education (and champion of no education) Betsy DeVos is proposing to completely eliminate all $18 million of government funding for Special Olympics and then pump $60 million into Charter schools.

At the same time, the Trump administration is trying to completely eliminate the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and slash Social Security.

This affects us in the disability community by:

1. Charter Schools Discriminate

One thing a lot of people are not aware of is that Charter schools do not have to take kids with disabilities. They run along similar lines as private schools (which also do not have to take kids with disabilities).

The IDEA (see below) is the law upon which IEP’s are built. It makes sure that our kids (and ourselves) get what they are entitled to: a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.

The IDEA is behind all public schools, but even though Charter schools run on public funds, they operate with private rules.

If a Charter school does not see a child with a disability as a good fit, they do not have to accept them. Furthermore. Charter schools do not need to follow an Individual Education Plan (IEP)!

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a four-part (A-D) piece of American legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs. IDEA was previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) from 1975 to 1990. In 1990, the United States Congress reauthorized EHA and changed the title to IDEA (Public Law No. 94-142). Overall, the goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.

IDEA is composed of four parts, the main two being part A and part B.[1] Part A covers the general provisions of the law; Part B covers assistance for education of all children with disabilities; Part C covers infants and toddlers with disabilities, including children from birth to age three; and Part D consists of the national support programs administered at the federal level. Each part of the law has remained largely the same since the original enactment in 1975.

In practice, IDEA is composed of six main elements that illuminate its main points. These six elements are: Individualized Education Program (IEP); Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE); Least Restrictive Environment (LRE); Appropriate Evaluation; Parent and Teacher Participation; and Procedural Safeguards. To go along with those six main elements, there are also a few other important components that tie into IDEA: Confidentiality of Information, Transition Services, and Discipline. Throughout the years of IDEA’s being reauthorized, these components have become key concepts when learning about IDEA. (Wikipedia)

2. Eliminating the Affordable Care Act

One of the greatest things that the ACA has done for our disability community is NOT discriminate based on pre-existing conditions.

That means that we won’t be denied health insurance because we already have a disability.

The Trump administration wants to completely eliminate the ACA and replace it with nothing. The only thing left on the table if the ACA is gone will be private health insurance, which as we all know, is exclusive, won’t accept people with preexisting conditions and will only kick in after we’ve made massive co-pays.

3. The Safety Net is Being Burned

Massive cuts are being proposed to Social Security – read about them here on the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities.

The bottom line with all of the cuts is that Trump’s proposed 2019 budget cuts over $83 billion in Social Security spending over 10 years, including over $70 billion in cuts to Social Security and SSI disability benefits.

Social Security is our national safety net, protecting our most vulnerable: the elderly, children and people with disabilities who need it. Cuts such as what the Trump administration are proposing are not simply making lives less easy; they can actually kill. People who receive Social Security benefits are already living below the poverty line; reducing what little they already have can literally threaten their lives.

The Focus on Special Olympics

The specific piece that the government funds that is being proposed to being cut is the Special Olympic’s unified sports program, which supports schools in integrating students with intellectual disabilities into their general sports programs. Read more about what is specifically being proposed here.

These programs are valuable and also beloved  to the intellectually disabled community. They matter.

But Special Olympics receives over $400 million in private donations. 

If the government does (as I doubt it even will) remove the $18 million that it is proposing to remove, Special Olympics will still exist. It will still have $400 million to operate on.

But if the government takes away the larger pieces here, the ACA and slashes to Social Security, these programs WILL NOT EXIST. There is nothing to replace them. There is no cushion of $400 million for Social Security or for the ACA.

What is Happening Here: Smokescreens & Divisions

Social Security and a healthcare system such as the ACA that is affordable and does not discriminate based on pre-existing conditions are obviously more important than school sports programs.

I don’t think I need to get into the why’s of that: we all know the safety net that Social Security is supposed to provide and healthcare is absolutely vital and when it comes down to it, is necessary for life.

But let’s not get fooled by what this administration is trying to do!

Consciously or intentionally or not, we are becoming divided into discussions on what is more important.

We are arguing all over social media on how Special Olympics is so awesome and how our kids were so positively impacted by it. We are posting about the pictures that Sara Weir of the NDSS took with Betsy DeVos, prizing photo opportunities over advocacy. We are talking about how much we need the ACA and/or Social Security but we are NOT uniting and absolutely demanding that none of these be cut!


There is room for all.

We do not have to – and should not – cut Special Olympics. Nor should we cut Social Security or eliminate the ACA.

The budget of the United States of American does not need to be balanced on the backs of the poor or by slashing  services, community or health.

The rich are currently enjoying tax breaks on their second homes! 

Can we all please understand that when the Trump administration is threatening to cut things that we care deeply about and that we know are important to our health, life and community, WE DO NOT NEED TO CHOOSE.

We can instead realize that this stuff is happening to allow for those tax breaks on second homes.

We need to see this for what it is: a smokescreen that makes it harder for us to see what is really going on, and also a tactic to divide us so that we squabble over these bits and pieces of meal while they go ahead and slaughter the flock.


Editing this to add that Sara Weir of the NDSS has shown where her priorities are, time and again and those have never actually been with the people she supposed to be serving (remember this post about NDSS at the table? Yeah, well…).  She should be held accountable for her actions.

This post is also not about saying that it’s okay to slash out the $18 million that the Special Olympics receives from the government: I’m saying that I think we should recognize what is going on here: we don’t need to talk about how Special Olympics needs to be saved and not pay attention to the drive to eliminate the ACA and slash Social Security.

Rather, I think we should work together to make sure NOTHING is cut, and to remember that while we are getting upset over Sara Weir and Special Olympics, all of this other stuff is quietly being put on the butchering block.

On January 19, 2017 the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) made a statement on their public Facebook page reporting they had met with Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education. This meeting and this post happened in the absence of any prior statements decrying her nomination.

It perhaps goes without saying that DeVos’ nomination hearing was an abject disaster, making plain not only her absolute lack of qualifications to hold such a position but also her complete lack of preparation for the hearing itself. Her lack of qualifications alone should be cause for concern, but her comments on special education and the laws that govern it were particularly alarming.

So alarming that there has been enormous backlash from the disability community and parents alike, a situation creating unlikely allies even among staunchly politically divided individuals. So alarming that one would expect every organization that claims to represent the disability community to stand in firm opposition to her nomination. 

Enter NDSS, the self-proclaimed “leading human rights organization” for individuals with Down syndrome. Instead of rallying its community of individuals with Down syndrome and their families, instead of giving us action steps to protest this nomination, instead of releasing a public statement condemning DeVos’ proposed trampling of civil rights, they met with Ms. DeVos and released a cheerful statement.

NDSS claims to be an organization that does not endorse candidates or nominees and inferred that to pass on the opportunity to meet with Ms. DeVos at this time would have been politically detrimental.

No other disability-related organization has met with Ms. DeVos as of yet, but it is reasonable to assume most will eventually work with her if she is, in fact, confirmed. This meeting was in no way politically necessary to ensure a working relationship with Ms. DeVos during her presumed tenure as Secretary of Education. Rather, this meeting and their praise of Ms. DeVos read merely as an endorsement of not only Ms. DeVos but also of her dangerous policies.

Timing is everything, and on this, NDSS got the timing horribly, embarrassingly wrong. NDSS made a political maneuver to place itself in a position of favor, but in doing so gave DeVos’ supporters an endorsement and a cheerful photo opportunity to use as an example of how the disability community supports her nomination.

NDSS went on to “applaud her commitment to special need families,” and stated that DeVos spoke of her “strong support and record fighting for special needs families.” This from a woman who days earlier, under oath, stated she planned to leave IDEA to the states and seemed confused as to what IDEA stands for or does for the disability community.

As the “leading human rights organization” for Down syndrome, we must hold NDSS to a much higher standard than a politically advantageous photo opportunity. That place of honor in this community comes with it a great deal of responsibility and, by necessity, the need for making moves that may not “feel good” but are ultimately right. It means skipping photo ops for hard hitting questions, it means rallying a community to action, and it means speaking truth to power: DeVos has no place anywhere near the Department of Education and this community will not stand for it. 

Holding our advocacy organizations accountable for their actions can be daunting, and I feel it challenges our deeply held belief that we must sometimes go along to get along. We do it all the time in classrooms, IEP meetings, community events. After a while, we understand we cannot go in to every situation with our armor on if we want a net positive outcome down the road. 

I’m telling you now that this is one time we must have our armor on. We must push back. NDSS is one of our direct lines of communication with the complex governing system up there on that hill. We must hold them accountable and be assured that they will fight for people with Down syndrome, even if that conversation is uncomfortable and doesn’t leave everyone smiling at the end.

Ms. DeVos is without doubt a danger to the civil rights of the community NDSS claims to represent. This goes beyond a mere difference in political opinion or varying ideas of how best to educate our children. There are ways to disagree with her nomination and ways to advocate that do not involve losing all political capital. It involves chipping away at that glossy exterior, though, that seems to accompany most things regarding Down syndrome “awareness.” It involves holding those that govern us accountable for their actions and letting them know that our community’s rights are not for sale.

I implore NDSS to step up and lead as we enter uncertain political times, to model for us effective political resistance when our community’s civil rights are at stake. As our human rights organization, it’s time to move past the photo opportunity.

About the Author of This Post

Melissa Stoltz is a writer, reader, policy wonk and mother of two. When she isn’t writing, you can find her watching episodes of Star Trek: TNG and knitting.

You can find her at her blog, Garden of My Heart

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