Special Olympics school programs rely on federal funds


Betsy DeVos sparked a national media frenzy last week, when the U.S. Secretary of Education defended a proposal that would cut billions of dollars from the 2020 federal education budget. Among those slashes included the zeroing out of any contribution to the Special Olympics organization.

In the fallout, President Donald Trump seemingly smashed the proposed cut and announced on Thursday that he has authorized Special Olympics funding in the upcoming budget.

According to CBSnews.com, the nonprofit gets most of its funding from private sources, but it received nearly $18 million from the federal government this year.

So, where does that money go?

Stephani Lane, county coordinator of the Dubois County Special Olympics chapter, explained that the proposed cut could have affected the organization’s programming offered at schools, but it would not have affected parts of the program that operate separately from schools.

Those school programs include things like Unified Track and Field and Unified Flag Football, which are team activities that bring together students with special needs and those without them through a partnership between the Special Olympics and Indiana High School Athletic Association.

The presence of campaigns in schools, like R-Word’s Spread the Word to End the Word — a national campaign supported by Special Olympics and Best Buddies that encourages people to pledge to cease using the word “retard” in colloquial speech because it is hurtful and dehumanizing to individuals with special needs — could also have been affected, Lane said. So could have Special Olympics Young Champions, a program not currently offered in Dubois County that allows students under the age of 8 to participate in Special Olympics programs.

Lane said the organization’s school-based offerings have come a long way over the years. If the cuts were approved, she said it would be a step in the wrong direction.

“I was just really disappointed,” Lane said of her reaction to the initial news.

Joe Shelton, one of Jasper High School’s Unified Track coaches, said that to his knowledge, the team — now in its fifth year — no longer receives money from Special Olympics Indiana. But for its first three years, the team received $1,500 grants annually from the state organization to cover upstart expenses, which were “very important in starting the program,” he said.

Shelton didn’t know for certain how the potential cuts could have affected his team now, but like Lane, he was also disappointed they were even discussed.

He and Lane both said the school programs offer a crucially important sense of community inclusion to students with special needs.

“It just gets people to see that our students with special needs are athletes, too, and they like to compete, and they like to be part of a group,” Shelton said of programs like Unified Track. “And just the socialization, the people understanding that our students, they’re capable of doing anything they want to do.”

In addition to the school-based programs, Dubois County Special Olympics hosts sports programs, other health-oriented activities and social events for both kids and adults with intellectual disabilities. Those activities are offered at no cost to the athletes and are funded entirely through donations, fundraisers and grants.

Lane said the community has been generous to the local chapter during the nearly two decades it has been functioning.

“This community has blessed us with helping with our fundraisers and helping with supporting our cause,” Lane said.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com