Editor’s Note: Maria Shriver is a journalist, author, and the founder of the nonprofit the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. Her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in 1968. John R. Kasich is the former governor of Ohio, serving from 2011 to 2019 when he made it a priority to help Ohioans with disabilities. A Republican, he was previously a member of the House of Representatives. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors. View more opinion articles on CNN.
We face a lot of division in America today, but there is a movement underway to build a more inclusive, united and tolerant nation. This movement is made up of individuals of different ages, different genders, different races and different political backgrounds. It’s a movement of people from across the country, all who can agree on this: We must teach our children what it means to belong and what it means to empathize with those who are different from ourselves.
Through its Unified Champion Schools program, Special Olympics is teaching these lessons of inclusion, unity and tolerance to our students in America’s public schools. That is why the Trump administration’s proposal earlier this week to eliminate all federal funding for this program was so distressing to millions of Americans who admire Special Olympics and know its value.
President Trump, hearing a loud and bipartisan outcry from impassioned supporters of the organization, decided to rescind the proposal. His swift response is a lesson for all Americans about what can be achieved when we come together, rise above our partisan concerns and use our voices to champion a cause that unites us all.
The $18 million in Special Olympics federal funding that the US education secretary had proposed cutting was money that is specifically designated for programs that support students with intellectual disabilities in public school sports and in the classroom. These school programs not only transform the lives of students with disabilities, but they also teach the rest of our students about the importance of acceptance and equality for all.
We could not even begin to understand why a universally beloved program that brings hope and inclusion to more than 270,000 US students, along with joy to millions – families, caregivers, teachers, volunteers and cheering fans – would be so rudely cast aside. After all, $18 million doesn’t add up to even a rounding error in the Department of Education’s $68 billion budget, let alone when measured against the enormity of total federal spending.
As two people who for years have each had our own close involvement with Special Olympics and the needs of the intellectually disabled – one of us as a governor who made meeting those needs a priority and the other as a lifelong advocate for Special Olympics and daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the program’s founder – we are moved to add our voices to the rising chorus of those who believe in the importance of supporting federal funding for this invaluable organization.
We understand the deep and lasting value of Special Olympics. We’ve seen its power in schools and in communities across the nation and we know that our entire society benefits when all our citizens are able to participate in and contribute to those communities. We have labored for many years, each in our own roles, to help see those powers multiplied.
In Ohio, the Kasich administration over its eight years invested millions of dollars, despite budgetary pressures, to make sure that the disabled could be mainstreamed into all aspects of society, live in their own homes, receive good care and find meaningful employment in their own communities. Special Olympics was the standard by which those efforts were measured, held up as a model for a range of programs giving people hope and respect and the ability to live their dreams.
American schools today are starving for programs and strategies that teach inclusion, belonging, purpose and empathy. These are lessons that all Americans, regardless of political party, know our country needs. Special Olympics is teaching these values to all our students — both those with intellectual disabilities and those without.
Our country needs to come together, now more than ever. As public servants, as parents and as citizens, it is our steadfast belief that our nation is sorely in need of an education in acceptance and inclusion, which Special Olympics provides. This is an issue that can unite us, as we’ve seen today with the outcry that brought about a reversal of these budget cuts. Let’s stay the course on this issue and see to it that Special Olympics and its values remain a priority for all.