The end of March 2019 made for an eventful few days for Special Olympics programs across the United States.
The news of the $18 million cut to the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program in the proposed 2020 federal budget resulted in a media firestorm unlike anything Special Olympics had ever seen. And Wisconsin lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were key players in driving public and legislative support for Special Olympics, resulting in President Trump reinserting the funds into the proposed budget just a few days after the controversy began.
Rep. Pocan kick starts the story
Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin’s second Congressional district helped bring the proposed cuts to the Unified Champions Schools program into the national conversation when he highlighted it during a congressional subcommittee meeting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on March 26, 2019.
And thus began several days of Special Olympics being a major story in the news cycle that included Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver going on several national news programs to discuss the Unified Champions Schools program and the critical role it plays in promoting inclusion and combatting bullying in schools
While the Special Olympics community was overwhelmed by the show of support from people across the country, some of the most vocal support in the days that followed came from Wisconsin legislators right on Capitol Hill.
Reps. Grothman, Gallagher and Steil show their support
On March 28, Wisconsin Congressmen Glenn Grothman (R-6th), Mike Gallagher (R-8th) and Bryan Steil (R-1st) cosigned a letter to the Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of the House Appropriations Committee urging them to continue to fund Special Olympics Unified Champion School.
In the letter, they write, “The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is critical to communities in Wisconsin… Nearly 15,000 Wisconsin students have been reached by the Unified Champion Schools program, which has helped establish welcoming and accepting communities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.”
That same day, President Trump reinserted the $18 million for Special Olympics Unified Champions Schools into the proposed budget.
The silver lining for these few days of controversy is that it brought Special Olympics’ Unified Champion Schools program into the spotlight and served as an opportunity to teach the public about what Special Olympics is doing in schools – a place people don’t always associate with Special Olympics.
What is the Unified Champion Schools program?
Started in 2008, the Unified Champion Schools program allows Special Olympics to work with schools to promote social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities that equip young people with tools and training to create climates of acceptance. Unified Champion Schools are schools where students with disabilities feel welcomed and included as essential members in all school activities, opportunities and functions. Through inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership opportunities, and whole school engagement, Unified Champion Schools are transforming the landscape for schools in Wisconsin, and across the country.
Nationwide, there are nearly 6,500 Unified Champion Schools. Last year, 3 million young people engaged in inclusive experiences and school activities across the country through Unified Champion School programming. In Wisconsin there are now more than 110 schools who have pledged their commitment to inclusion by becoming a Unified Champion School.
Special Olympics Wisconsin is incredibly proud of the support Wisconsin legislators on both sides of the aisle displayed for a program that is so critical to making the school environment as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
Rep. Grothman followed up his letter of support with an in-person show of support when he visited the Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Indoor Sports Tournament in Oshkosh on April 7. And this Saturday, Rep. Pocan will be speaking in support of Special Olympics Wisconsin at the regional track & field meet in Oregon.
Special Olympics Wisconsin is lucky to have such amazing support from lawmakers across the state and across the aisle!