OKLAHOMA CITY - Earlier this week, Education Secretary Betsy Devos proposed eliminating $18 million in federal funding to the Special Olympics.
“Cutting the Special Olympic budget would be very detrimental to our community,” said Cheri Weaver, Wings Special Needs Community Executive Director.
Devos’s plan to cut funding now has some local programs concerned, saying Special Olympics is a vital tool to people with intellectual disabilities.
Weaver with Wings Special Needs Community said many of her members have been involved with Special Olympics in one way or another, saying the program helps build friendships and create a sense of community.
“They’re involved in all the different sports. It’s an extra socialization. It’s healthy for them to go to basketball practice. To go to swim practice,” Weaver said.
Sharyn Taylor has been a special education teacher at Crooked Oaks for over 30 years now.
“It builds their confidence and they realize that they can compete and they can do well,” said Taylor.
Taylor said her school relies on donations and fundraising to send students to the Special Olympics.
“It is disappointing to hear because you want to support all kids,” Taylor said.
But Taylor isn't the only one worried.
Oklahoma mother, Kelly Lisenbee, says her 9-year-old son, Ben, looks forward to the Special Olympics each year, saying it has made a lasting impact on his life.
“They`re not just helping children. There are full grown adults in this program,” Lisenbee said.
Her son has been involved with the program for 3 years now.
“It helps him to socialize with other kids while getting to do some fun things and it helps him see some wins in his life,” Lisenbee said.
Special Olympics Oklahoma sent us a statement in response to the proposed cuts,
“Special Olympics is a nonpartisan organization that strongly supports policies, legislation and practices that guarantee the rights, full participation, and integration of people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Special Olympics recognizes the progress that has been made around the country in eliminating the stigma, stereotypes, isolation, and discrimination that people with intellectual disabilities face – most importantly around access to sport, health, and education opportunities and services. We ask federal, state and local governments to join Special Olympics in remaining vigilant against any erosion of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with ID.”
Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, also sent us a statement saying,
“The work being done by Special Olympics in Oklahoma, across the nation and globally is life changing, and I strongly support their mission to transform lives through sports. All students can grow and all students can succeed, and Special Olympics is helping to make that happen for students in Oklahoma classrooms every day.”