Autism Society Statement Regarding President’s Budget Cuts to Special Olympics and Other Education Programs

Bethesda, Maryland, March 28, 2019 — The Autism Society has received requests for information about the President’s Budget for the Fiscal Year 2020 cuts to Special Olympics and other education programs following testimony provided by Education Secretay Betsy DeVos on March 27, 2019, before the House of Representatives. She was scheduled to testify in the Senate today.

During the House of Representatives hearing on the President’s Budget, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked about cuts to the U.S. Department of Education FY 2020 budget that impact people with disabilities. 

The President’s Budget eliminates federal support ($17.6 million) for Special Olympics’ Unified Champion Schools program, in which students with disabilities team up with students without disabilities in various sports and activities. The program is offered in 6,500 schools nationwide and could impact approximately 272,000 students with disabilities if it is eliminated as proposed. Mr. Pocan also pointed out that the President’s Budget makes cuts to other disability-related programs in the Department of Education. These include cuts to special education technical assistance ($18 million) and the complete elimination of the supported employment program ($22 million).

The Autism Society of America opposes these cuts but would like to point other cuts to the education budget that are of concern. For example, as Secretary DeVos points out, the special education state grant program under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is level-funded. However, as the child count goes up, along with inflation, the continued level-funding of special education programs amounts to a significant cut.  When IDEA was enacted in 1975 it promised to provide 40 percent of the per-pupil cost of providing special education. The percentage provided now is at 13 percent and trending downward. Early intervention and preschool services, where many students with autism and other developmental disabilities get the most benefit, has been level-funded for years.

In addition, the continued promotion of voucher programs using public dollars for private schools is of great concern. The President’s Budget provides $500 million, an increase of $60 million over FY 2019, for this purpose. Many students with autism, developmental disabilities, or those with mental or behavioral disabilities are shut out of these options. Private schools also often require parents to waive their educational and due process rights under IDEA when they make this choice and many parents are not even made aware of their rights before making these important decisions.

Finally, the Autism Society is most concerned with proposals in the Budget to cut and cap the Medicaid program. Medicaid supports schools by funding many of the health and related services that allow students with autism to be successful in schools, such as behavioral health, occupational, speech and language therapies. This Budget proposes $777 billion in cuts (over ten years) to Medicaid along with structural changes to the program. Medicaid is the only federal program that provides long-term services and supports in the community. This would be devastating to the lives of families impacted by autism.

The Autism Society is pleased to see bipartisan Members of Congress challenge the Administration’s proposed cuts to programs that support people with autism and other disabilities.  We will be working with Congress as the appropriations subcommittees mark up their funding bills to ensure the highest possible funding levels that assist people with autism to be successful and have high-quality lives.

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