News Article Details

Trump says he won't cut Special Olympics

Tribune-Star - 3/29/2019

March 29--After days of criticism, President Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon said his administration will back off a budget request to cut funding for Special Olympics.

Trump told reporters at the White House, "I have overridden my people" and Special Olympics will be funded, according to national media reports including those of the Associated Press.

The Trump administration's education budget proposal, as announced by Education Secretary Betsy Devos, had initially called for the elimination of $17.6 million in funding for Special Olympics nationally, roughly 10 percent of the group's overall revenue.

The news about the proposed cuts had caused much confusion and concern among families and Special Olympics participants in Indiana, said Jeff Mohler, president and CEO of Special Olympics Indiana. Many families believed entire programs and organizations would be affected.

What was discussed by DeVos only pertained to the Unified Champions program in schools, both in Indiana and nationally, Mohler said.

Called Champions Together in Indiana, the federal cuts would have slowed the growth of the program, which involves inclusive sports teams in schools, Mohler said prior to Trump's announcement.

Champions Together, which can be found in 610 Indiana schools K-12 -- including Terre Haute North and South Vigo high schools -- involves sports teams that include both those with intellectual disabilities and those without intellectual disabilities.

No other Special Olympics Indiana program would have been affected, including local community-based programs, Summer Games [held annually in Terre Haute], the health and fitness program and the sports competitions.

Prior to Trump's reversal, DeVos had stated that she "loves" the organization's work and has "personally supported its mission." But she also noted that it's a private nonprofit that raises $100 million a year on its own. Ultimately, she argued, her agency can't afford to continue backing it.

But with Trump's announcement that funds won't be cut, Devos told one media outlet: "I am pleased and grateful the president and I see eye-to-eye on this issue, and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant. This is funding I have fought for behind-the-scenes over the last several years."

Special Olympics Indiana received $250,000 in 2018-19 used for the Champions Together program, Mohler said.

The program involves a partnership with the Indiana High School Athletic Association and reaches 410 IHSAA member schools; the goal is to reach 1000 K-12 schools in the next four years, Mohler said.

The funding is used to help new schools get started with programming, including anti-bullying campaigns and disability awareness. "Then, we hope in one to three years the school will be able to be self sufficient," Mohler said.

Schools tend to take ownership of the programs and keep them going. If cuts had occurred, Mohler didn't envision those programs already in place being affected.

But if federal funds had been cut, "It would affect our ability to get the next school involved," he said. "We wouldn't grow as quickly."

In response to Thursday's developments, Mohler stated, "On behalf of Special Olympics Indiana, we are thankful for the overwhelming support from our athletes, families, volunteers, teachers, coaches, school and community partners. We are encouraged by the President's recent remarks that funding will be reinstated. Special Olympics Indiana will continue to expand our school program, creating inclusive communities, benefiting hundreds of thousands of Hoosier students with and without intellectual disabilities."

Indiana Special Olympics has a special relationship with Terre Haute; the summer games are hosted here, with competition taking place at and around Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Two ISU faculty members, Tom Songster and the late Judy Campbell, founded Special Olympics Indiana in 1969. For many years, the Special Olympics Indiana headquarters was on the ISU campus before moving to Indianapolis in 1990.

This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics Indiana, a nonprofit organization serving more than 14,000 people with intellectual disabilities. The Summer Games will take place June 7-9.

Songster is expected to attend the Summer Games this year, as well as Dennis Schmidt, retired executive director of Indiana Special Olympics.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.


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