The Department of Education promised to protect children with disabilities, but deep cuts proposed by Secretary Betsy Devos could defund the Special Olympics.
And it would be a big blow to the people who rely on that organization, which has deep roots here in Connecticut.
Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver; essentially in her backyard.
The programs being cut by the federal budget started right here in Connecticut, but for many Connecticut families, it’s much more.
Ted Kennedy Jr. of Branford and Board Chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities said, “Fifty years ago when my aunt Eunice Kennedy Shriver created the Special Olympics, individuals with intellectual disabilities were the most isolated and segregated people in our society.”
The organization’s mission is dear to the Kennedy family.
Ted Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to bone cancer at age 12, became an advocate for disability and inclusion. In addition to competitive events, Special Olympics runs year-round so-called “Unified Sports Programs.”
They pair able-bodied athletes and athletes with special needs.
A proposed 18 million dollar but to the federal education budget would hault the ability to expand those programs in Connecticut.
“We had to make some difficult decisions with this budget. Ok, well, this is a question about how many kids. Not the budget.” Congressman Rosa DeLauro grilled Education Secretary Betsy Devos at a hearing in Washington. “Shame on you. This is your watch.”
Kennedy says the programs being targeted have led to better outcomes for students. “I’m very alarmed by the budget decisions in Washington, DC that seek to terminate such a successful program in Special Olympics,” Kennedy said.
Special Olympics Connecticut serves more than 12,000 athletes and unified partners.
Kennedy says now’s the time for parents of athletes to advocate for funding. “And talk about how meaningful and impactful that this program is year around in the schools,” Kennedy said.
Special Olympics says more than 95 percent of Connecticut high schools, including some middle and elementary schools, currently have unified sports programs.