Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is no stranger to criticism. Since her nomination, many have questioned the capabilities of the political hobbyist and the public good of her apparent public policy agenda. The Secretary’s continued push to cut funding to the Special Olympics was, however, a red line for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Comprising 10% of the organization’s budget and used to fund programs in public school, the $17.6 million cut to the Special Olympics was overruled by President Donald Trump himself after the proposal sparked bipartisan outrage. While DeVos would like to frame her proposed cut as a budgetary necessity to a private organization that should, and can, raise private capital, it is actually an example of a dysfunctional political mindset, which seeks government that caters to the influential.
Government exists to manage communities, which entails solving problems that cannot be fully solved by individuals and private concerns. That is precisely why the government collects tax dollars to fund social programs that help those who cannot help themselves. It is why government manages massive programs like Social Security and Medicaid in order to ensure the basic necessities of the disabled and the elderly are met. It is also why government funds grants and loans in order to make education accessible for those who come from families that cannot readily afford them. For its part, the Trump Administration has also proposed capping the amounts students can borrow for college, which will help blunt rising education costs with the nasty consequence of freezing out less than affluent students out of college.
Policies like the proposed caps on financial aid for college students and cuts to the Special Olympics deprive those who actually need government services of government services. College is not the right path for everyone and not everyone needs to have a college degree, but those who actually need federal funding to start and complete their degree are the ones who need to receive it. The reason the Federal government offers financial aid is that there are a lot of very smart, yet poor, people who can obtain an education and have a big impact on the world. Since the cost of education has exploded, the demand for government and private aid has risen. It is a consequence of rising costs, inflated infrastructure costs, higher demand for the services of schools, and increased utilization of increased student aid. To blunt rising costs, student aid must be better administered. Quality students do not need to be denied access to education based on the finances of their families and arbitrary caps on loans.
With that in mind, the overall budget for the Department of Education and the Federal government should be streamlined. It is a dysfunctional, inefficient mass in need of organization. Unfortunately, political considerations and reactions too often interfere in the efforts of those who earnestly want to fix such issues in government. That is no more apparent when it comes to funding cuts for beloved programs. Simply gutting the budget of programs is not, however, good management or a good way to restructure government spending. It does nothing to actually address the issues driving wasteful spending. It simply makes room in the Federal budget for wasteful spending in other programs. If DeVos wanted to streamline the funding of her department, she would seek to consolidate the administration of programs under her charge and reduce waste in the administration of those programs.
The Special Olympics is not wasteful government spending. The funding the Federal government provides is used to improve the quality of life of disabled individuals in ways that other forms of special education funding do not address. The problem for DeVos appears to be that the Special Olympics provides services for a special interest group, a special interest group that does have the direct political influence of other special interest groups. Government exists to provide services for all members of a community, but there are times when government needs to provide for the needs of specific groups, even if it does not benefit the majority of the population. The problem is that the special interests groups, which are typically favored by government, are the most influential.
Disabled kids are not a special interest group backed the influential. They are a vulnerable group that needs representation in government and the support of government. It appears the DeVos proposal targeted the Special Olympics, because she disregarded the impact this private-public cooperation has on the disabled and felt there would be insufficient lobbying power to derail her proposal. It is precisely the opposite kind of reform that is needed. The fact that people from across the political aisle came together to override the Devos proposal, in contrast, is an example of constructive political involvement in governance.
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