Special Olympics funding disaster

It would be easier to feel sorry for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos if the $17.6 million cut she included in her department’s budget was going to be rebated to taxpayers or, perhaps, used to help pay down the national debt. But the federal government never, ever spends less. The budget goes up every year.

It is where DeVos planned to cut the $17.6 million — out of federal support for the Special Olympics program — that has landed her in hot water. The pushback has been so strong the past few days that President Donald Trump announced Thursday he would pull that provision from his budget.

Special Olympics is a truly wonderful initiative. It provides organized, athletic competitions for those with developmental disabilities. There are Special Olympics teams and events here in our area, as well as across the nation.

DeVos, grilled by members of Congress this week, agrees that Special Olympics is “awesome.” But, she points out, it is a private charity that raises about $150 million a year. Only about one-tenth of the amount comes from the federal government.

“There are dozens of worthy nonprofits that support students and adults with disabilities that don’t get a dime of federal grant money,” DeVos noted in a statement this week. But, she added, “Given our current budget realities, the federal government cannot fund every worthy program, particularly ones that enjoy robust support from private donations.”

She is far from the first person to question the propriety of taking money from taxpayers, then giving some of it to programs deemed worthy by federal officials — while refusing to help any number of other good causes.

Still, jerking the federal rug out from under Special Olympics all at once was not a good idea. Like so many charities, the sudden loss of 10 percent of its annual revenue would have been a serious blow to the organization.

A better idea might be to phase out federal support, a little at a time — say, by reducing Washington’s grants over a 10-year period, until they are eliminated.

Philosophically, DeVos had a point. Her ham-handed approach to Special Olympics was wrong, however, and Trump was right to change his budget plan before Congress did it for him.