Locals react to proposed Special Olympics federal funding cuts

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Special Olympics Illinois gives kids with disabilities a chance to play school sports, but a new proposal could take that opportunity away.

"They look forward to that, that's really special for them that's why they call it Special Olympics because it's important to them and their families and the ones that love them,” said Kathy Elliott who is a Rockford Township resident.

Elliott says the best way for kids to fit in is through school activities and it's a shame if the government takes that away from kids with mental or physical challenges.

"She is cutting funding for people with special needs who don't have an advocate for themselves. It's very sad,” Elliott said.

US Education Secretary Betsey DeVos proposes cutting $18 million in federal funding that helps pay for Special Olympics programs across the country. Special Olympics Illinois CEO Dave Breen says the state gets about $300,000 for the Unified Champion Schools Program.

“The special needs students are kind of put out there as a part of the school just like every other kid. It's all done through athletics because a lot of these kids are competing with each other. That's the whole point of unified sports is individuals with and without disabilities competing together,” Breen said.

If funding is taken away there might not be money for teacher stipends. But Breen says organizers will fight to keep the program running.

"Our board at Special Olympics Illinois is very committed to making sure this program keeps going,” Breen said.

DeVos also proposed eliminating money for the 21st-century community learning center that supports many after-school and summer programs for low-income.