Issue Position: The McCain-Palin Commitment To Children With Special Needs
"To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House." -- Governor Sarah Palin, 9/4/08
Today, Governor Sarah Palin Outlined The McCain-Palin Commitment To Children With Special Needs. John McCain and Sarah Palin believe we must continue to challenge our education system to expand access to students with disabilities and provide them with a meaningful and high-quality education. Only 52 percent of students with disabilities graduate with a regular high school diploma, and 33 percent of students with disabilities drop out of the education system entirely. John McCain and Sarah Palin believe we can, and must, do better. A McCain-Palin Administration will do better, with a Vice President who understands the issue first-hand working to implement these major reforms.
The McCain-Palin Commitment: More Choice
* Allow Parents Of Students With Disabilities To Choose The Best School For Their Child. Parents should be able to send their child, especially a child with a disability, to a school of their choice so that they can get the best education possible. Using the Florida McKay scholarship as a model starting point, the McCain Administration will allow states to develop programs that allow parents to choose public or private schools, with federal funding following the child. The McCain-Palin team will also expect states to hold these schools accountable for their results. This proposal carries no cost beyond IDEA funding. States should be allowed to develop these programs with their federal IDEA funds and state and local funds.
* Make Explicit That Federal Funds Are Fully Portable. John McCain and Sarah Palin believe parents of students with disabilities should be allowed to use federal funds at any qualified school of their choice, public or private, religious or secular without forcing them into an administrative process. Currently, the district or the specific school can make such a recommendation. This initiative will allow the parents to make the choice and recommendations themselves. The McCain administration will work to make this a reality.
The McCain-Palin Commitment: Fully Fund The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
* The McCain Administration Will Fully Fund The IDEA. Special Education has been a federal issue since 1975, when President Ford signed the law now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- IDEA. While IDEA has been improved and strengthened over the years, its primary funding commitment has never been met.
* Full Federal Funding Of IDEA Is Estimated At $26 Billion Annually Compared To The Current Level Of $10.9 Billion. Using a phased-in increase of $3 billion annually in order to reach the full funding in five years will cost an additional $45 billion over five years. Full funding for IDEA means the federal government would pay 40 percent of the costs of the K-12 special education program.
The McCain-Palin Commitment: Reform And Refocus
* Provide Information And Assistance To Families Of Infants And Toddlers With Special Needs And Up-To-Date Information For Medical Professionals. The Parent Training and Information (PTI) Centers and Community Parent Information Centers (CPRCs) provide needed information and assistance. Unfortunately, to date, their focus has been parents of school age children; the McCain Administration will refocus IDEA so that the Centers must expand to parents with children ages 0-3. In addition, the McCain Administration will call for the Centers to provide access to better information for medical professionals about improvements in resources and the availability of assistance. In turn, these medical professionals will be able to provide better information to parents. This can be done with no additional cost beyond IDEA funding as it merely refocuses existing funding.
* Increase Funding For States To Improve Services To Families With Infants And Toddlers. Almost 80 percent of families with special needs children from birth through three years old serve their children at home under the IDEA program. Parents and families will benefit from improved programs and resources to maximize their child's potential in the early years under a McCain Administration. Currently, this part of IDEA is minimally funded.
* Improve Services To Students With Disabilities In High Schools And Community Colleges. The McCain Administration will modernize the Vocational Rehabilitation Act to improve services to students with disabilities in high schools and community colleges. Require states to demonstrate proven outcomes for students with disabilities that lead to gainful employment when they graduate. When the Vocational Rehabilitation Act is modernized, funding should be refocused to incentivize proven outcomes for students with disabilities.