ORLANDO, Fla. (FOX 35 ORLANDO) - Education Secretary Betsy Devos is in the middle of another controvery.
Devos said that the federal government can no longer afford to fund the Special Olympics and that the non-profit will do fine on its own. Several athletes, celebrities, and politicians have criticized the proposal.
The controvery comes as Orlando gets ready to host the Special Olympics USA Games in 2022.
Maryann Gonzalez, a Special Olympics athlete, showed Fox 35 a very special picture of her representing the state of Florida in the 2018 Special Olympics opening ceremony. She said "my brother watched it in Atlanta and I get to see him once a year. He took a picure and sent it to me on my phone."
Maryann has been competing in the Special Olympics for 46 years now, as she got her start at 9-years-old. "It taught me to be myself," she said. "It's helped me grow as a person. Now, I help other athletes."
Just hearing that the federal government wants to cut the $19 million they had budgeted for the Special Olympics makes Maryann wonder if politicians understand what the Special Olympics are all about.
"They need to look. Open their eyes and see what it does for athletes around the state and county. It opens so many doors for these athletes to be a part of something and to feel like they are at home," she said.
There are more than 51,000 Special Olympic athletes competing in Florida. Sherry Wheelock, the President and CEO of Special Olympics Florida, said that last year, around $200,000 dollars of funding came from the federal government. "Every dollar is critical," she told Fox 35.
While athletes like Maryann have fun competing, she also believes that the Special Olympics is about more than just sports. "It's so important to be included and them taking the money away just seems like they're taking away a part of us," Maryann said.
Wheelock said that she has the data that proves that. "The reason the Department of Education believes in it is that it's impacting their programs. They're seeing positive impact in the students in the schools," she said.
Which is why the Special Olympics needs federal funding.