Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will donate her $199,700 salary to four nonprofits — one of which would have its federal funding eliminated per the White House budget request.
DeVos will write checks divided equally among the four organizations, including the Special Olympics, Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told POLITICO.
President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request would do away with about $12.5 million in federal money for the Special Olympics, the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with disabilities. Just this week, Special Olympics athletes and program leaders made the case on Capitol Hill for “critical funding.”
In a statement, the Special Olympics said it received a “verbal commitment” from DeVos about her donation.
“We do not have additional specifics at this time,” the organization said. “Special Olympics appreciates the opportunity to continue [to] work with and educate Secretary DeVos and members of Congress to create unified and inclusive schools in our country.”
The donation to the Special Olympics comes after DeVos has faced intense scrutiny over special education.
She fumbled a question on the topic during her confirmation hearing in 2017 and suggested that states should handle enforcement of a federal law that protects the civil rights of children with disabilities, called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She later clarified that she’s committed to enforcing special education law.
DeVos has also indicated that she intends to seek comment on whether her agency should delay by two years an Obama-era rule aimed at ensuring minority students with disabilities aren’t over-represented in special education.
DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist, has a long history of donating to groups that support expanding access to charter schools and private schools and religious organizations, among other causes. The New York Times first reported the names of the organizations to which she would donate her salary.
The Education Department’s ethics office cleared DeVos to make the donations in her personal capacity rather than her professional capacity as secretary, Hill said.
She plans to give a quarter of her nearly $200,000 salary to Kids Hope USA, a nonprofit focused on mentoring programs designed by churches to target at-risk children in public schools.
DeVos has served as a mentor for the organization, Hill said. And her philanthropic foundation, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kids Hope USA in recent years.
A 2016 financial filing lists a $250,000 donation as “approved for future payment” and a $235,000 donation as paid during the year.
DeVos also plans to donate to Vision to Learn, an organization that provides glasses to low-income children at no cost, and Dreams Soar, a nonprofit focused on encouraging girls to pursue degrees and careers in the fields of STEM and aviation.
Last year, the founder of Dreams Soar, Shaesta Waiz, penned an op-ed for The Hill backing DeVos’ nomination for Education secretary.
DeVos’ family also founded an aviation-focused charter school, called West Michigan Aviation Academy, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which Waiz praised in the op-ed.
The donations to charity are another way in which DeVos’ wealth sets her apart from past secretaries. Education Department officials have also noted that DeVos has tried to save taxpayers money by flying privately in her own plane and footing the bill.
Other Cabinet secretaries, like Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, have come under fire for spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to take private and first-class flights. Price resigned following a POLITICO investigation last year.
DeVos also pays for her protective detail — which is provided around the clock by the U.S. Marshals Service — to fly with her on her private plane. That protective detail is highly unprecedented for an Education secretary and is projected to cost up to $6.54 million through September 2018.