Palin Says Special Needs Will Be a Priority

By Christina A. Samuels — September 17, 2008 1 min read
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Her speech was heavy on economic-policy prescriptions, but on Monday in Golden, Colo., Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also outlined the issues she would focus on if she and John McCain are elected: energy, government reform, and “special needs.”

From the speech:

I've told Senator McCain a few things I've learned as a senator governor and as a mom. Ever since I took the chief executive's job up north, I've pushed for more funding for students with special needs. It's touched my heart for years, especially about 13 years ago with the beautiful addition to our extended family of a nephew with autism. And now, my family and I, we have added special perspective with the birth of our beautiful baby boy, Trig, just four months ago. ... We can join so many American families that know that some of life's greatest joys sometimes come with some unique challenges. We're going to make sure that government is on their side too. And part of that effort is going to involve making sure that our most dreadful diseases have our most effective efforts. Too often, government gets in the way when innovators take on cancer or Parkinson's or Alzheimer's to find a cure...our administration will lead the effort to find new treatments and new cures.That's going to be a commitment in our administration.

It’s well known at this point that Sarah’s son Trig has Down syndrome.

The video clip begins mid-speech, but her comments on special needs are made with about 9:45 minutes left to go in the segment, and continue in more depth beginning around 5:25. (Those who are interested in hearing the entire speech can see part 1 here.)

During Palin’s tenure as governor of Alaska, funding for children with severe disabilities who need specialized care has indeed gone up. (Not down.) Those children make up a relatively small part of the special education population, however. The state does not provide funding to school districts specifically for special education students with less severe needs, but does give an additional block grant to districts that they can use at their own discretion for special education, gifted education, education of English language learners, and vocational education.

Just like with McCain’s speech at the Republican National Convention, I’m left wondering why there was no mention of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. The opening was right there, but Palin made a quick pivot from talking about people currently living with disabilities to curing diseases.

Also, the disability advocates I’ve had the opportunity to interview seem to care less about government obstruction, and more about just having enough funding to explore the topics they consider important. One research avenue, federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, is something Palin opposes, as do many social conservatives and President Bush. McCain, however, says he does support federal funding of such efforts. (Skip to question #8)

It would be nice if special education and research priorities could be explored more closely during the debates. But with the economy sucking all the oxygen out of the room right now, I’m a little skeptical.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.