Power to the Parents

Naysayers regarding Sarah Palin’s promise to be an advocate for children with special needs can stand down for now rant all they want, but I’m still excited.

Earlier today, Palin delivered a speech in Arlington, VA introducing the McCain-Palin Committment to Children with Special Needs. The committment focuses on granting more choices for parents regarding the education of their child with special needs, and reprioritizing the federal budget so that IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) will be fully funded for the first time since Gerald Ford made it law.

Many of you know that my seventh child, Thomas, has Down syndrome. He just turned three last week, and he’ll be starting preschool next month. I’m grateful for the existing services for kids like Thomas, but disappointed by the school district’s placement policy, which includes parents as part of the child’s educational decision-making team, but leaves the final decision as to where and how the child will be served in the public school system in the hands of administrators.

That’s why I was excited to read this:

In a McCain-Palin administration, we will put the educational choices for special needs children in the right hands their parents’. Under reforms that I will lead as vice president, the parents and caretakers of children with physical or mental disabilities will be able to send that boy or girl to the school of their choice — public or private.

and this:

Like John McCain, I am a believer in providing more school choice for families. The responsibility for the welfare of children rests ultimately with mothers and fathers, and the power to choose should be theirs as well. But this larger debate of public policy should not be permitted to hinder the progress of special-needs students. Where their lives, futures, and happiness are at stake, we should have no agenda except to ease the path they are on. And the best way to do that is to give their parents options.

I want options for each of my kids. Some of them are profoundly gifted, others more typical in their academic intelligence. Each of them deserves better education than they’re getting. But none of them need better education more than Thomas. None of them need my involvement more than Thomas. Parents, not administrators, should determine the educational fate of children with special needs–and I’m profoundly grateful that McCain and Palin agree.

88 comments for “Power to the Parents

  1. A spending freeze will translate in fewer dollars for special needs children. So, if you want a spending freeze, vote for John McCain.

  2. I guess amidst all the talk about her lack of experience, poor understanding of national and international events, divisive rhetoric, extreme views, ethics problems and spending on clothes and make-up, I missed the nay-saying about her promise to be an advocate for special needs children. I never doubted her sincerity in that regard. Ability, yes; sincerity, no. So this was never on my very long list of concerns about Palin.

  3. spending on clothes and make-up

    The $5 million she spent on that fake Greek temple was particularly egregious.

  4. Vouchers for parents of special-needs kids doesn’t seem like an awful idea, but it seems to me that it should come from the local/state level, not federal legislation. Either way, I hope you’re in a place where you can get Thomas into a great program.

  5. Kathryn: I did not mean to be unhelpful. It is just that, given the impact that the VP traditionally has on policy matters, Palin’s laudable and admittedly sincere desire to help special needs children is far outweighed by her other deficiencies.

    Adam: $5M? And I think the comparison to the Barackopolis is a false one. Both campaigns spent what they wanted on their convention props and logistics. The Palins spent, on top of that, $150,000 on clothing for their personal use (admittedly for campaign appearances, I suppose).

  6. And I really have not heard any nay-saying about her desires to help special needs kids.

  7. Kathryn, as the daughter of a man who has worked with special needs children (and their parents) all of his professional life, I was very excited and pleased to read this post. I have seen from a very early age just how many choices parents don\’t have when it comes to providing a solid education that meets the special needs of their children. I do not have any children of my own yet, but I know that if I was the mother of a child with a handicap, values like the one presented by Palin today would be at the top of my list. Thanks for putting this out here!

  8. Martin, the point of the post is not to debate Palin’s qualifications as VP, but to highlight her approach to educational reform for children with special needs, and discuss its merits and demerits. There’s been explosive, divisive discourse in special needs communities about Palin’s integrity and intent in this regard. Whether or not she ever takes office, her speech today was a landmark for anyone with personal investment in the topic.

    Like MJGrant. (Thanks!)

    And thank you, too, Bro. J.

  9. “The Palins spent, on top of that, $150,000 on clothing for their personal use (admittedly for campaign appearances, I suppose).”

  10. “Under reforms that I will lead as vice president, the parents and caretakers of children with physical or mental disabilities will be able to send that boy or girl to the school of their choice — public or private. ”

    What reforms are needed to make this true? I think it is true today and I don’t know anyone who disputes this. I suppose the issue comes in who foots the bill as special education programs tend to be very expensive. I could leap to the conclusion that Palin is offering vouchers. I think the skepticism that comes is that this comes from a party and ticket that seems unwilling to spend in other areas (except, you know, war). The fact of the matter is, reforms are worthless without money attached (review NCLB for examples).

    FWIW the school district I currently work for has a policy that goes for every student: placement is done with parental involvement, but the final decision is the administrator’s. This is true for all populations, not just those with, ahem, strong advocates. As always, parents are free to remove their students from public schools for whatever other options they choose.

  11. I could leap to the conclusion that Palin is offering vouchers.

    What leap? It seems obvious to me that vouchers are what she is talking about.

    In the current budget climate, the probability that either candidate is going to fully fund IDEA is negligible, and without that, nothing will really work. Sorry to rain on your parade.

  12. If I think about myself as the parent of a special-needs child, then of course I would want the final say in my kid’s education.

    I think about myself in the role of teacher or administrator, I become a little scared at the thought of parents showing up and announcing that they have determined that their child needs a full-time aid, or an extra hour to take every exam, or teachers to create specialized tests that don’t involve X, or a waiver from the PE requirement or . . .

    Parents aren’t the only players. They aren’t the ones having to balance the budget, keep qualified teachers from leaving because of unreasonable expectations, or meet the needs of the other 23 children in the room. Hence, I think it is unreasonable to give parents the final say over decisions in this case.

    I find it hard to believe that her promise to pay for private school will translate well in the real world, where I’m sure I could get an ADD diagnosis for my 7yo and I’m sure I could find a 40K/year private school to take him in.

    To sum, I think this statement from Palin is the very worst kind of pandering to parents of special needs children.

  13. Kathryn,
    As pleased as i am to read this, I do groan a bit at her great “experince” with a mere 5 months of special-needs motherhood under her belt, and how she hasn’t had to fight one bit for the early intervention and school programs that the rest of us have had to do. she’s just too new to undertsand that, and so it makes me uncomfortable whens he says she knows how it is. Her battle hasn’t yet begun, and as governor or VP, she may never find out what the rest of us endure to get proper services for our kids. Of course I’m thankful for the IDEA funding and school choice ideas, but I bristle at the claim that she somehow knows more about it based on her new found experince in the area. Instead, I feel suspicious – would this really happen, or is it a ploy for votes?

    after all, Obama pledged full IDEA funding as well

  14. Julie,
    As an autism mom who actually has fought my district with lawyers and independent expert doctors and won a couple years of private placement, even I find that line very alarming! Does Palin want me to be so grateful for granting my wish that my cheering blocks out noticing how unworkable and unrealistic her proposal is? It can’t just be that any special needs kid gets the school of the parent’s choice, that is so easily-abused it can’t be viable policy, and so again, it makes me mistrust Palin.

  15. ESO, I made it clear in my post that I want expanded options and parental power of choice for each of my students. So do McCain and Palin. But they’re saying we shouldn’t wait to revamp the whole system before kids with special needs receive what they’re, ahem, entitled to under law.

    cchrissyy, thanks for your thoughts. You’re right–Palin hasn’t been in these shoes for long, but it doesn’t take long to develop a sincere desire to bring about change. She might not ever really understand what it’s like for average-jane moms of kids with special needs, but she already knows far, far more than her opponents. I am, of course, grateful for Obama’s committment to IDEA. But I’m especially grateful for an approach that acknowledges the central role parent should play in its implementation.

    Julie, it would indeed be a problem for parents to have carte blanche. That’s not what I expect, and I don’t think it’s what Palin is talking about either.

  16. Kathryn, if parents won’t have that power, then what precisely is Palin promising and why is it different from the plain meaning of her words?

  17. My experience with IDEA (8-years running) and our school district has been overwhelmingly positive. IEP meetings and renewals have always come with good data showing the school’s recommendation as to which accommodations are no longer necessary and which ones they recommend adding.

    It’s always been more support here than I expected (full disclosure: my mother is a professional advocate for children with disabilities and I’ve seen horror stories; remind me to tell you sometime about the principal who was awarded a grant to buy a new bus for his special-needs kids and then took the money, refrofit an ancient bus with a wheelchair lift, and gave the new bus to the football team) and I’ve always come away feeling not only listened to, but part of a team working together for my son’s benefit.


  18. As an administrator and special education director, I feel the need to chime in for the first time. By law schools are required to provide a “Free and Appropriate Public Education”. In most situations I have been involved in (I have worked in three school districts), the goal of all involved was to serve the child in the best possible way. However, “the best possible way” as seen by the parent who has only one child for which to advocate may be far different than the school administrator who must advocate for all children within the system. The federal government has never fully-funded the IDEA; in my district we typically over-spend the allowed funding by 40% or so. That means that each one of those dollars that goes to support a special needs child that is over and above the federal and state amounts is one dollar taken away from all the other children. In my case, that means that the approximately 12% special needs kids receive funding priority over the 88% of the remaining population.

    A great way to start this process would be for the federal government to actually fund the legislation as written. We can worry about the fancy stuff later.

  19. Julie, I don’t see the same plain meaning that you do. If we put administrative carte blanche at one end of the spectrum, and parental carte blanche at the other, there’s a whole spectrum of possibilities in between. What I want is for the balance of power to shift in the parents’ direction in reasonable, feasible ways. Perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions in assuming that Palin wants the same, but I don’t see anything extreme in her speech. Is there something in particular that you see as a red flag?

    Chad, I’m glad you’ve had good experiences in your district.

    Steve (#21), thanks for sharing your perspective. A great way to start this process would be for the federal government to actually fund the legislation as written. Indeed.

  20. “Is there something in particular that you see as a red flag?”


    “we will put the educational choices for special needs children in the right hands their parents’”

    “the power to choose should be theirs”

    “And the best way to do that is to give their parents options.”

    I see two options here:

    (1) This is just empty rhetoric–parents won’t really be able to have more choice.

    (2) Parents really will have more choice. This, as I said in my first comment, looks great on the surface, but what does it look like in practice? Perhaps I have misread her comment as implying that parents could no longer be outvoted on IEP cmtes (although I assumed that from your “but leaves the final decision as to where and how the child will be served in the public school system in the hands of administrators”) and she didn’t mean that but did mean that parents could choose public or (gov’t funded) private. If that is the case, I see one of two options:

    (a) The voucher will be for the avg. cost of a (not special ed) student. In that case, the promise is meaningless because virtually no special ed. student will be able to find a private school to take her/him for the cost of a not-special-ed student.

    (b) The voucher is much larger. Which brings me back to: are you really willing to fund my 7yo’s (hypothetical) 40K/private school because I told you that he needs it?

    To sum, I can’t figure out how this plan can be anything but (1) empty rhetoric or (2) a blank check to parents.

  21. Julie, obviously I can’t say exactly how things would shake down. But I don’t think it has to be one extreme or the other. There can be checks and balances between parents and administrators that leave parents with more choice than they have now.

    I know you’re an advocate for school vouchers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the past you’ve stated that, under a voucher system, alternatives to public school for typical students would proliferate to meet demand. I believe something similar would happen if parents of kids with special needs had money to take elsewhere. Maybe the voucher would need to be somewhat larger, but your example of a $40K private school is, imo, overblown.

  22. “There can be checks and balances between parents and administrators that leave parents with more choice than they have now.”

    That would be great. But I see no evidence that that is what Palin is suggesting. Do you?

    “Maybe the voucher would need to be somewhat larger, but your example of a $40K private school is, imo, overblown.”

    Of course it is overblown and that was exactly my point–if you give parents all power, you give them the power to demand overblown vouchers. If you aren’t planning on giving parents all power, then it is Palin’s rhetoric that is overblown.

    (Although now I am curious, for the sake of argument, to know what private schools that accept children with fairly significant disabilities do in fact charge.)

  23. Julie, I wish it could be otherwise, but I think you are going to be forced to surrender most of your dubious parental authority if the government increases funding. It never seems to work out any other way. If you ask the government to step in and help, they always assume more authority than any private interest — including the parents of children. Any children, not just handicapped or otherwise challenged.

    I wish, in my heart of hearts, that we could extend funding to private organizations that want to help parents like you, that have children with special needs. The government has never been a good party to work with on such interests. Wouldn’t it be better to have some private party do it? Someone that cares honestly about charity and service? Let’s face it — government institutions get a failing grade when it comes to such concerns. Too many bureaucratic rules take the place of compassion and caring. And too many government employed who care first about their paycheck, and last or not at all about those they are supposed to be serving.

    As one who has been recently severely handicapped, I have seen this first-hand too many times to enumerate. Government institutions cannot do the job properly. Leave it to people who really care about doing a good job of serving those in need. We could all benefit from such an arrangement.

  24. (Jim, that was a hypothetical–I don’t have a special needs child.)

    That said, I agree with your first sentence and that’s why I think Palin is blowing smoke and pandering to parents of special needs kids.

  25. Private schools cannot compete with government-funded institutions, in the current arrangement. I imagine things would look a lot different, if government funding went to private institutions, instead of being designated solely to fund the government monopoly. There are huge money interests to protect here, revenues that are almost inconceivably bloated and huge. All for funding a mandatory government-run public education system that does an abysmally poor job of educating the children.

    These days, I think many children learn IN SPITE of the education system, not because of it. Children learn, at an incredible rate, all by themselves. What they need is a bit of supervisory direction. Instead of that, what our public education system teaches them is increasingly burdened with government rules and restrictions.

    Public education is a terrible idea, and people have been trying fruitlessly to fix it for at least the span of my lifetime. Time to try something new.

  26. Julie, I don’t see any evidence that Palin’s specific intent is reasonable and viable, nor do I see any evidence that it isn’t, because she doesn’t give specifics. Both you and I are making assumptions flavored by our personal bias regarding Palin, and if I’m eager to see the glass half full, I believe you’re likewise eager to see the opposite.

    I don’t see what’s so pie-in-the-sky about a goal of increasing parental involvement in special needs education. However inexperienced Palin might be as a politician, I think she knows that any extreme measures don’t stand a chance of surviving the legislative grist mill. Until there are specifics to hash over, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.

  27. Yeah, I hate Palin. And I agree with you that she’s short on specifics.

    But specifics that would, as you say, allow “Parents, not administrators, [to] determine the educational fate of children with special needs” will lead to something unworkable. Specifics that wouldn’t allow that mean her statement is empty rhetoric.

    Either way . . .

  28. Julie,

    I’d like to believe that ther is a good alternative to the plan Palin is promoting, but I’m afraid there isn’t anything better form any of the candidates. What exactly do you propose as an alternative to either MCain and Palin, or Obama and Biden?

  29. Jim,

    I’m not an expert in this area. Special ed. seems hugely complicated to me and I have no idea what the best practices are.

    However, I was instantly suspicious of what Palin said based on the fact that (1) really giving power to the parents is not a wise idea, as I explained in my first comment and (2) McCain has promised a spending freeze. So this seems to me to be pandering for the votes of special needs parents, which I think is reprehensible.

  30. Julie,

    I am in complete agreement regarding campaign promises.

    We must first have confidence that political candidates are trustworthy, before their campaign rhetoric is anything but a lot of talk. But I doubt that any of the candidates is honest enough to trust.

    I wish I could believe someone was.

  31. Julie, it’s all too easy to see reprehensible intent in someone you hate. I respect you a great deal, but if you’ve decided there’s absolutely no redeeming value to Palin’s plan (in advance of knowing specifically what it is), and you don’t have any ideas about what would be better, then I don’t think you and I will benefit from any further discussion.

    I’m intrigued by the visceral reaction Palin provokes in so many people. It’s like Hillary redux.

  32. But hold on, didn’t she mock the scientific research in fruit flies? You know, the research that is helping us understand autism much better? I believe she did mock that in today’s speech. It’s pretty awful of her to not realize the importance that the study of fruit flies brings to the understanding of genetics in humans. But then again, Mrs. Palin hasn’t really actually given any thought to this issue. Her speech was not of her own making, but written by someone else.

    I don’t believe for one second that she will actually push for this once in power. But I’m supposedly biased.

  33. Dan, if you don’t think a mother of a child with Down syndrome will fight like hell for any benefits she can possibly procure for her kid, then you’ve given far less thought to the issues than Palin allegedly has.

  34. “Until there are specifics to hash over, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.”

    KLS, this is a truly amazing line. I am tempted to frame it. It has been a long time since I have read anything like this line written by anyone in either party. The trust, the faith, the absence of cynicism — I had no idea that there was anyone left in his country who responded to non-specific policy speeches in this way. I really don’t know what to say.

    I’m a cynic myself, but I don’t want to seem dismissive. Even if I don’t share your optimism or your faith, I share your wish that the winners of this election, whoever they are, will not betray the heartfelt trust of those who take their vague promises at face value.

  35. Kathryn,

    Frankly, I still don’t believe it is her child. We shall see in December when Bristol “conceives” a baby. That’s a side issue.

    And in terms of what Sarah Palin will push for, yeah, she might push for this—only because she has a child in the family that has Downs. If she didn’t this would not be even an issue.

    I believe with Julie that this is mere pandering, trying to cast a softer light on Palin. But she just has too much other baggage for someone like me to take her seriously. She seems like someone who prefers for her family to have the rights and choices about what to do, but when it comes to other people, forgetaboutit! She thinks her daughter Bristol should have the choice on whether to keep the baby or not, but she’s not giving other daughters out there that choice.

    I just don’t see this happening with a Republican president. I may end up being surprised, but at this point, I’d like some surprises out of the Republican party.

  36. Kathryn,

    I really want to bring up that fruit flies thing again. Here is what Palin said about it.

    “You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”

    How ignorant she is regarding the field of scientific research into the genetic problems special needs children have! As the writer of the blog I linked to says:

    The fruit fly (Drosophila) has probably been the single most important organism for the study of genetics for over a century now. Almost everything we know about genetics, development, cell biology, neuroscience, and every other field of biology has strong roots in previous and current work on Drosophila. The fruit fly is one of a small handful of “standard model organisms” used by thousands of scientists across the world to learn how our bodies, organs, genes, and proteins work. Most of what we know about how a single fertilized cell becomes the amazingly complex beings we are comes from studies initially done in Drosophila. Vast amounts of our understanding of the brain (and brain disorders, diseases, and defects) also come from initial studies in fruit flies.
    In fact, recent research from my own graduate alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on fruit fly brains has had an impact on the understanding of autism and has boosted autism research:
    “[S]cientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have shown that a protein called neurexin is required for..nerve cell connections to form and function correctly. The discovery, made in Drosophila fruit flies may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism.”
    To decry research in [condescending and amazed tone] “the fruit fly” is a testament to the true idiocy of this woman and to the failure of our public education system. In fact, her own father, Chuck Heath, was a biology teacher – obviously a complete failure of a biology teacher.

    Now, tell me Kathryn, does Sarah Palin sound like someone you can trust to direct American tax payer funds to the proper places in order to advance research to fix the problems of special needs children? Because it sure as heck doesn’t sound like it to me.

  37. Dan, I assume (and hope) there are exceptions, but the vast majority of devoted advocates for children with special needs are people whose lives have been touched by a child with special needs. Same goes for most social issues. If McCain hadn’t adopted children, he probably wouldn’t be such a strong advocate for adoption. Thank goodness he did, and is.

    Suggesting that Palin is pretending to be Trig’s mother is the most preposterous thing I’ve heard in a good long while. I’m *amazed* at the depths people are sinking to in their eagerness to malign Palin. Amazed in an amused way, that is–these folks have too much baggage for someone like me to take seriously.

  38. Didn’t mean anything she said? If she didn’t mean anything she said, why take anything of her speech seriously?

  39. I gotta say, I love the \”…in Paris, France. I kid you not!\” Paris honest-to-goodness France, folks!

    It\’s like a Pace Picante Sauce ad. \”New York City?! Get a rope!\”

  40. Aha! The perfect reply to some of the earlier comments in this thread.

    Dan, in all seriousness, I don’t think we can change each other’s minds about Palin, and I’m really not interested in trying. But I’m sincerely glad you’re so passionate about helping kids with special needs.

    And now, I’m off to drool over Jason Bourne (again) for Friday night movie time.

  41. you’ve decided there’s absolutely no redeeming value to Palin’s plan (in advance of knowing specifically what it is)

    I’m virtually certain that Palin herself doesn’t know specifically what her “plan” is. That’s what allows her to make pie-in-the-sky promises. There is no “plan” as such. I think that’s Julie’s point.

  42. Ed, I think Julie’s criticism goes beyond yours.

    You may be right that Palin’s ideas are is still in the rhetoric-only stage (like many campaign promises). But I think it’s better to see if/how this develops than take potshots before it has a chance to grow legs.

    Laptop shut!

  43. Julie, welcome to the world of political speeches. Do you hear other candidates giving more details on their plans? I don’t. When generalities are the coin of the realm, I think you have to give someone credit for voicing the right generalities.

    Palin says, “Parents, not administrators, [to] determine the educational fate of children with special needs.” You conclude that this is either a precise statement of her plan (i.e. parents have complete control and administrators none) or meaningless. If she were making a mathematical statement, your interpretive approach would make sense. When this is a human being talking about human institutions, your interpretive approach is quixotic.

    Obama says we need to spread the wealth around. I might conclude that either this means everyone will have the same income, or it is meaningless. I would be totally unreasonable.

    When you ask me how I’m doing, and I say I’m doing well, does that mean I have no problems? No. Normally we accept the idea of making a broad statement in one context and going into detail in another. Take a deep breath and treat Palin’s statements like the English they are.

  44. McCain is promising a spending freeze, is this freeze only applicable to programs that don’t directly affect the family of his vice president? If not, these are empty promises. Funding for any program will not increase under a McCain/Palin administration, IDEA and other programs will not be able to offer any more choice or assistance to parents.

    We all want better options for our children, special needs or not, but choice costs money and that’s not going to happen.

  45. Kathryn writes, “Julie, it’s all too easy to see reprehensible intent in someone you hate.”

    So what was her intent?

    And I don’t think her intent is reprehensible at all–I think her intent is to promise the moon to special ed parents because (1) she really feels for them and (2) she is desperate for votes. I think she is extremely naive and didn’t consider what it would mean to give parents “control,” but I don’t see anything reprehensible about her intent. It just wasn’t well thought out. That seems to be a theme for Palin.

    Ben H. asks, “Do you hear other candidates giving more details on their plans?”

    I think the difference is this: if McCain or Obama is fuzzy on the details of, say, their health care plans (and I believe most analysts say that both are), then we can choose to either be cynical and say their plans will usher in Armageddon or we can choose to give them the benefit of the doubt and say their plans will work out OK in the end. Which one of those we choose will depend on how we choose to construe the missing details of their plans.

    But in Palin’s case with this issue, there are two options for construing the missing details: (1) she really means to give parents a blank check and veto power, which is a terrible idea or (2) she really doesn’t in which case her promises are empty rhetoric. In this case, the details–no matter what they are–won’t help her.

    Ben writes, “When this is a human being talking about human institutions, your interpretive approach is quixotic.”

    At the risk of turning this into a mirror of our presiding debates, a parent either has final say (which is what Kathryn suggests in the original post, although she seems to back away from that in later comments), or they don’t. If there is some magical formula that Palin was intuiting where parents would have more power without actually having more power, please describe to me what that would look like in the context of an IEP meeting because either I can insist that my child get fully funded semi-private fencing lessons because it seems to mitigate his oppositional compliant disorder (no joke) or I can’t insist on it. There’s no half insisting.

  46. So this seems to me to be pandering for the votes of special needs parents, which I think is reprehensible.

    I interpreted this to mean “she’s telling parents of children with special needs what they want to hear purely for self-serving purposes, which I think is reprehensible.”

    I’m glad to hear that you believe “she really feels for them.”

    So what has she done that’s so reprehensible? You think she spoke too soon? For heaven’s sake, people have been on this woman since her first speech to hear what she wants to do for kids with special needs.

    You don’t have any alternatives to suggest, and you’re still speaking in extremes. Palin didn’t say anything about taking away the school district’s power to determine which children qualify for services, and which services are available.

    And I”m not “backing away” from anything. I never said I wanted a blank check.

    Say I’m having an IEP session for Thomas in which five options are discussed: 1. He can attend a kindergarten for children with hearing impairment and receive no special education services, 2. He can attend a kindergarten for children with special needs and receive no hearing impairment services, 3. He can attend a typical kindergarten with an aid, 4. He can attend a private kindergarten and receive no services, 5. I can homeschool him for kindergarten and receive no services.

    This is not really a hypothetical scenario. Thomas hasn’t started kindergarten yet, but I’ve already discussed possibilities with his therapists, and these are the actual options. But my power of choice is limited. I can’t decide which public school scenario he would end up in–I can express my preference, but the administrators have the final say. I can’t afford a private kindergarten, so that’s not really a choice. I can homeschool him without any financial support, but that’s not a desirable choice, because his special needs require supplemental instruction that I can’t provide on my own and can’t afford to pay someone else to provide.

    I want real power to choose. Administrators needn’t offer me public school options that aren’t reasonable and viable, but if there are three reasonable and viable options, I want to decide which is best for Thomas. The government needn’t offer me $40K for private kindergarten, but they could offer me SOMETHING to offset the cost of going it alone or seeking private schooling. And as you’ve said before, if parents have money to spend, supply will meet demand.

    I don’t think Palin is as naive as you suggest regarding special education. She’s worked the system in Alaska with good results. She knows the extremes you keep bringing up stand no chance of becoming reality.

    “But there’s no money,” people keep saying on this thread. How costly would it be to mandate that parents get to choose between the options administrators come up with? How costly would it be to give parents the money already allotted to the public schooling of their child with special needs, to spend in the private sector as they see fit?

    I’m incredulous that proponents of school vouchers aren’t cheering Palin’s proposal that such a system begin immediately, starting with children with special needs.

  47. Kathryn, if you think that all that Palin is proposing is that, of five options that a district identifies, parents be able to make the final call out of those five instead of districts making the final call, that sounds very reasonable to me.

    But if the district knew that you’d get to pick from the five, do you think they would have put those same five on the table? I’m pretty sure #4 would never have been mentioned.

    Further, reading her full speech leads me to believe that she *does* think, as your original post suggested, that parents should be able to veto IEP cmtes: “They may keep telling you that your child is “progressing well,” and no extra services are required. They keep telling you that — but you know better. ” and “Even the best public school teacher or administrator cannot rightfully take the place of a parent in making these choices.”)

    As far as vouchers: we shouldn’t do that by abusing the special ed system (which will happen if only parents of special ed students can get vouchers) but by giving vouchers to all parents . . . which brings me to your final line: as a proponent of vouchers, I’m booing Palin’s proposal because it is a convoluted, abusive means to the end.

    Holy moley–now I get the fruit fly reference. She’s using that in this very speech as her only specific example of pork spending that will be re-purposed to fully fund IDEA. It is bitterly ironic that she chose that example–let’s abandon basic research that helps people with disabilities in order to spend the money on people with disabilities. And then she continues: ‘We’re going to work on long-term cures” Ha!

  48. But if the district knew that you’d get to pick from the five, do you think they would have put those same five on the table?

    Perhaps not. And that’s where the claim that “schools only want the best for the child” breaks down.

    it is a convoluted,abusive means to the end.

    As far as “convoluted,” I suppose that depends on which end you have in mind.

    And abusive? Do you really think a voucher system for special-ed could be put in place without public schools donning all kinds of armor? It wouldn’t possibly be the “free love” kind of scenario you describe.

    “They may keep telling you that your child is “progressing well,” and no extra services are required. They keep telling you that — but you know better.”

    You and I have different interpretations of this. If I know better, that doesn’t mean I get to have whatever I want from the public school system. That (hopefully) will mean I can have assistance in seeking services elsewhere.

    We’re going in circles here. I’ve said my piece. Your perspective has given me lots to think about, but my hope for positive, effective change remains. I’ll give that up only when I have to.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  49. “And that’s where the claim that ‘schools only want the best for the child’ breaks down.”

    Who claims this? In 21 above Steve Holland suggests that “by law schools are required to provide a ‘Free and Appropriate Public Education.'”

  50. Kathryn,
    You presently do have the right to private school placement with all the services and accommodations he needs. You just have to meet two requirements – that the public schools don’t have anything appropriate to offer while a certain private school does, and secondly, that you’re willing to devote lots of time and money to your fight.

    Now, as a person who worked like nuts in terms of time/stress and finances and did get private placement plus all the same therapy services, I can testify that it is possible and that it was WAY harder to pull off than the law says it should be. that’s because of the lack of IDEA funding, which both candidates promise to fix, and it’s especially a shame because most families don’t know their rights and don’t have the resources to fight for them – to bring in the lawyers and the doctors and ot pay the tuition while the district takes its sweet time deciding what to do about it.

    I didn’t need unilateral decision power here- just officials who had authority to execute an IEP according to what the laws already say about private placement and quality evaluations, who aren’t strangled for money so that their jobs work in opposition to my child’s needs. If the Sp Ed department had enough money for services, for tuition, and for competent assessments, then every child could get those without a fight. the problem now is that the staff members on the team can’t fulfill their obligations under the law -, so they end up in this awful position of denying services, denying assessments, telling illegal lies like “we have a policy against aides” or “we don’t do private placements”. I don’t beleive these are evil people and the answer is full parental control- if the $ was there, the team would make right services and placement decisions.

  51. People with special needs are (in McCain’s vocabulary) an expensive special interest group. You can spend an extra $5,000 per year on each severely disabled child. Or you can spend an extra $50,000 year. You can allocate a million government dollars, spread over a lifetime, to each individual with Down syndrome. Or you can make it five million.

    But no matter how much you spend, there are going to be difficult issues of rationing and resources and choice. Not all parents will get all the resources they want. Some parents will make reasonable but impractical demands. Some parents will make practical but unreasonable demands. Some parents will make practical and reasonable demands that an overburdened school system just can’t get to. Schools with limited budgets will have limited options and limited flexibility.

    The same issues arise in health care spending, infrastructure spending, social work spending, tax cutting, business stimulating, veteran service spending, social security, etc. Whether a government or a private insurance company is involved, there will always be rationing and there will always be customers who want more than they can get.

    In each of these categories, a candidate who says “We’ll try to increase the fundamental competence and flexibility of the service providers without allocating more resources” is less credible than a candidate who says, “We will allocate X more dollars to this cause, and here is how we will spend the money.” A candidate’s ability to improve the fundamental competence of all American service providers is limited. Increasing flexibility in a government service costs more money, because people who had chosen to opt out of that service before will now choose to take advantage of it. Unfunded mandates drain resources from other areas.

    Of course, McCain understand this very well. And this is why his tax proposals and mortgage bailout proposals and health care proposals and veteran care proposals have included specific numbers. When something is a priority, you get specific. When something is not a priority, you make vague promises, you utter a few platitudes about “choice” and “effectiveness,” and you give moving speeches that make it clear that you at least feel the pain and understand the concerns of your audience.

    As KLS put it, you offer the audacity of hope. To families who are desperate for something to believe in, you offer empathy, faith, hope, dreams, compassion, and love.

    Sometimes this is enough.

  52. Julie,

    Holy moley–now I get the fruit fly reference. She’s using that in this very speech as her only specific example of pork spending that will be re-purposed to fully fund IDEA. It is bitterly ironic that she chose that example–let’s abandon basic research that helps people with disabilities in order to spend the money on people with disabilities. And then she continues: ‘We’re going to work on long-term cures” Ha!

    I was wondering why no one else seemed baffled as I was that she would mock the study of fruit flies in a speech about increasing study of Downs kids and other special needs kids.

  53. Timer, as you can imagine, I’ll be watching closely to see if the campaign coughs up the details on this. I regard yesterday’s speech as an introduction, not the final word.

    empathy, faith, hope, dreams, compassion, and love

    These are not small things, especially in politics. If this is all I end up with, I’ll still come out ahead.

  54. cchrissyy,

    I can only imagine what you must’ve gone through to secure services for your son. My hat goes off to you.

    I’ll be delighted with any progress towards more fully funding IDEA. But I maintain that the balance of power should shift in moderate ways towards parents. Let me state yet again that I’m not in favor of “full parental power.”

    Dan, if Palin was misinformed re the importance of fruit fly research, I trust that has already been rectified. It still doesn’t change her fundamental views re this issue.

  55. When the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, in a state awash with oil money, slashed the school budget for special needs children by 62% Got that? 62% Let me repeat, she more than halved the money available. We have evidence of how Sarah Palin behaves towards special needs children, and it is the EXACT OPPOSITE to her current record. I somehow doubt her sincerity.

    Read all about it, with budget links, here: http://momocrats.typepad.com/momocrats/2008/09/update-sarah-pa.html

  56. Djinn,

    The last part of the post you linked says this:

    The combined total of the two components in FY08 is $8,865,000, exceeding the FY07 budget by $599,700.

    Prepared by Eddy Jeans, Director of School Finance

    In what sense is you allegation that the governor cut the budget by 62% true?

  57. “Palin did not cut funding for special needs education in Alaska by 62 percent. She didn’t cut it at all. In fact, she tripled per-pupil funding over just three years.

    … According to an April 2008 article in Education Week, Palin signed legislation in March 2008 that would increase public school funding considerably, including special needs funding. It would increase spending on what Alaska calls “intensive needs” students (students with high-cost special requirements) from $26,900 per student in 2008 to $73,840 per student in 2011. That almost triples the per-student spending in three fiscal years. Palin’s original proposal, according to the Anchorage Daily News, would have increased funds slightly more, giving intensive needs students a $77,740 allotment by 2011.

    … Those who claim that Palin cut special needs funding by 62 percent are looking in the wrong place and misinterpreting what they find there.”


  58. OK, I confess to not reading the link close enough; Special Education services has gone down from ” Special Education Service Agency (SESA) – $2,072,300″ to “Special Education Service Agency (SESA) – $2,054,600” a small drop, but still a drop. The bulk of the budget alleged to deal with special needs children appears to be some sort of boot camp run by the national guard for teens who drop out of school. It’s budget increased from $5,091,600 to $5,709,000. A link on it can be found here: http://www.defenselink.mil/ra/documents/ngycpar.pdf While it sounds like a worthwhile program, it has nothing to do with the needs of parents with special needs in the schools.

    So, I definitely overstated. Sarah Palin lowered spending in her state for special needs kids, but only by about $20,000. Still not a ringing endorsement.

  59. I take it all back. I just looked up the actual bill. (NOTE–ALWAYS do this first.) It does give more money to special needs programs and also mitigates the loss of large numbers of students in a single year, so that a school doesn’t have an exactly proportional loss of revenue. Looks like a good bill. (I can’t believe i’m saying this) Props to Palin. And, as the above commenter mentions, it gives more money to students state wide. The legislation can be found here. http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill_text.asp?hsid=HB0273A&session=25

  60. Thanks, djinn. yer cool.

    I’ll roam around the yard with you, but we both better remember that KLS holds the remote activator for our shock collars.

  61. Kathryn,


    Dan, if Palin was misinformed re the importance of fruit fly research, I trust that has already been rectified. It still doesn’t change her fundamental views re this issue.

    1. I trust that nothing of the sort has been done. With the fast pace of this campaign right now, this is probably one of the lowest things on the priority totem pole to rectify.

    2. Palin has shown a serious lack of inquiry when it comes to various issues. So in this particular case, she probably never even knew the importance of fruit flies in genetic research. The McCain campaign priority is anti-pork rather than well funded scientific research. So Palin’s speech writer, in this case, ignorantly put in a swipe at some pork legislation that had something to do with the topic—fruit flies research—which just happened to be very important in the field of genetic disorders!

    3. I highly doubt that Mrs. Palin has really had much of an opportunity to sit down and really think about the complexity of having a special needs child and what programs might best help her and other mothers out. I honestly don’t think she’s done this (a. because I don’t think it’s her child, but her daughter’s, and b. her work as governor and now as VP nominee has kept her too busy; she can afford aides to take care of the children—you gotta remember, they’re not a middle class family, no matter their rhetoric. Their income is above $1,000,000).

    4. I hope you are right that Mrs. Palin will actually really think about this issue in depth. Her track record to this point tells me she won’t.

  62. “because I don’t think it’s her child”

    I don’t know if we have a formal rule against malicious gossip, so I won’t delete that, but from one Palin-hater to another, let me tell you: that’s malicious gossip and I don’t want you repeating it on this blog.

    Dan, going after Palin is like shooting fish in a barrel: you don’t need to get into the questionable stuff anyway. Stick with the verifiable stuff in the public record–it isn’t as if there is any lack of examples of her idiocy or corruption.

  63. Dan, there’s plenty I don’t like or trust about Palin. But I’m confident she will give her best effort to this issue, and you can’t convince me otherwise. What that effort will amount to remains to be seen.

    Thanks for participating in the discussion.

  64. Kathryn, I’m an Obama supporter, but a great fan of yours. I hope Pres. Obama talks to parents like you and Sarah Palin and does something significant on behalf of all special needs children. I have been deeply frustrated by the “teaching to the test” idea, which has been damaging to my own children. I have had to advocate for them because I know that if I don’t do it, nobody else will. When my youngest son passed his math class, his teacher said, “Good. You passed. Now your mom won’t keep bugging me.” (I’m smiling.) I suspect that when my son graduates, several teachers will have a little party celebrating the fact that they won’t have Margaret Young nagging them anymore. Most of the teachers have been wonderful to work with. When I have found one unwilling to work with my child, I have summarily withdrawn my child from their class. Regardless of what plan is in effect, any of us with challenged children will have to be their advocates. I should also say that I have managed to resist temptations to send the teachers’ syllabi back with my corrections on punctuation and grammar, and treat I them respectfully–addressing them as Mr. or Ms. I have, however, been pretty open about my opinion of their textbook, and most have agreed with me that the texts are, as Mark Twain said of the BoM “ether in print.”

  65. An apology for my ironic errors in punctuation and grammar. Also, I am not imitating Yoda. I meant “I treat them respectfully,” not “Treat I them…” I’m using my husband’s laptop, and I just have a really hard time getting used to it.

  66. Margaret, your use of “Pres. Obama” brought a smile. (Although chances are, he will be soon enough!)

    I’m hopeful as well that Obama will be of service to people with special needs. It’s great to have this issue as a campaign “side dish” on both sides–an unprecedented occurance, as far as I know–and I thank baby Trig for that..

    I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on advocacy, and I’m grateful and honored to count you as a friend. Thank you.

  67. KLS–re: your 5 kindergarten choices. Might you consider moving to NY state? Seriously–you would have many more options. The only thing is, you get what you pay for, and we pay for it. But we generally have excellent options.

    FWIW, I work at the elementary level right now, and I know of numerous “cases” currently being hashed out in my building. Interestingly, the one I am involved with includes parents who want their child to receive significantly fewer services than anyone in the school feels is appropriate. If it were a matter of money, we might all give them exactly what they want–it would be much cheaper. But it would be wildly inappropriate for the child. He needs much more service than his parents have come to grips with yet. They will not be cheap. Yet, we, the staff and administration, feel very strongly that he needs more. Of course, the parents have the “right” to withdraw him from our public school care and place him in a private school where, likely, he can receive no special services.

    Education is not simple.

  68. ESO, thanks for chiming in. Interesting case. I’m assuming the parents are in denial . . . which is sad, although not surprising. I suppose it’s not uncommon for parents and professionals to have some degree of conflict regarding an IEP, but this sounds pretty unusual. I’m glad there are so many services available, and sensitive professionals like you who are keeping close tabs on kids who need them.

    Utah has pretty crappy services compared to what my friends in other states are receiving for their kids with Down syndrome. But I don’t think we’ll pack our bags. :)

  69. Kathryn,

    Utah has pretty crappy services compared to what my friends in other states are receiving for their kids with Down syndrome.

    I hate to say this, but maybe Utah should stop being afraid of the Democratic party and vote them in. You might be surprised at the increase in great services for your community, such as we have in New York (as ESO points out). There’s a reason why Utah has crappy services for its communities.

  70. Dan, you’re right–Democrats kick Republican butt when it comes to social services.

    My politics are moderate. I’m well aware of Palin’s problems, and my enthusiasm for her as a VP candidate has lessened since her debut, although I’m still heartened by her committment to children like my son, no matter what its flaws may be. But I’m also heartened by Obama’s expressed intent regarding IDEA funding. On this particular issue, I can’t really lose on election day.

    Generally speaking, though, I have major issues with both party platforms and both teams of candidates, and feel continual frustration about being stuck with a mixed bag no matter which way I vote.

    but that’s another post…

  71. Kathryn —
    Our daughter, who has Down Syndrome, is in 5th grade here in Wyoming. It’s been up and down as far as services and inclusion go. 5th grade has been great…but it has been a Herculean labor getting to this place (a teacher who completely includes her, with time in the resource room for reading as her only pull-out time. She also has a full-time aide who works with her and other children in the class). She loves school, and I am trying to enjoy this year as much as possible, because we transition to middle school next year, and the battle willl begin again.

    I don’t think that parents who have not faced it or anticipated it can get what Gov. Palin is saying. I want the best education for my child, and I want it in a friendly place; therefore I have to be a kind and considerate advocate who does all she can for the school while asking for an inclusive education for our daughter. This is her right, according to IDEA — she should have access to the general curriculum in the least restrictive environment. When she started at this school (in third grade), three of the IEP team members told me point blank that she did not belong in the general classroom (despite the fact that she was an emerging reader and NOT the poorest reader in 3rd grade). My response: “So, you have to be a superstar Down Syndrome student to be included in the general classroom? It’s happening all over the nation — why not here?”

    As we began this journey, I found that many school administrators will not tell you about your child’s rights…they simply tell you what “we do for these kind of students.” And you believe them and worry, and then read a few books and realize that they were simply very willing to let you muddle in the dark — sort of a “don’t tell if they don’t ask” situation.

    I am almost done with my rant! One of the best resources I have found is an inclusive Education Conference every February in Denver, CO. It is put on by PEAK Parent Council. Educators and parents from all over the nation gather for 3 days of excellent classes. It has been a huge force for good in our lives. I can’t do everything or have everything that I see there, but it gives me hope and imagination rejuvenation. It is worth the trip to Denver. Last year, a young man with Down Syndrome (Lee Jones) was one of the keynote speakers. He spoke for about 45 minutes about his life, the obstacles he faced, and how he overcame them. Phenomenal.

  72. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I agree, an inside view changes everything!

    I’m glad your daughter is having a good experience this year. I’ve heard from other Ds moms about the challenges of starting jr. high… I’m glad we have some time before we hit that stage. But even starting preschool is complicated.

    The conference you’re describing sounds wonderful. I got to hear Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz speak at the NDSC convention in Boston this past summer, and they were amazing.

    It’s great to hear from other parents, too. If you don’t already know about GIFTS, stop by our site: http://www.giftsds.segullah.org

  73. I second Margaret Young on parental advocacy. I had a special needs son who attended school in Tennessee, New Jersey, and South Dakota. I did careful research on school districts. My husband took job offers and avoided others because of the way school districts served (or didn’t serve) children like our son. I got the best professional opinions I could on my son’s condition and options. The greatest difference between his IEP results and those of some other children were due to my diligence and persistence. After IEPs were done the greatest differences in his services were due to the character and competencies of his teachers and therapists, and to my relationships with them. If a parent knows the law, and is willing to be the squeaky wheel, her [or his] child will be better served. Is this fair? No. If a parent sends treats and supplies, and helps in a regular classroom her child will probably be better served. Is this fair? No. But I have found it to be reality. Because of my son’s challenges I have had the chance to help other parents navigate the system. It’s hard. All children were alike to Moroni, valuable and perfectly loved. I hope that whoever wins the election thinks like Moroni, and is filled with charity, and acts [i.e. legislates] accordingly.

  74. Julie,
    I think you might want to actually attend an IEP meeting. It is a little painful to read your comments about fencing lessons, etc. for your hypothetical special needs child. Even with parents being offered more choices, a child would still need to qualify for services and there would be limits (financial and other) to what “choices” the parents could make, of course. Palin’s speech speaks to broadening the limited choices that parents have right now.
    Lisa F. and Karen actually know what they are talking about.

  75. JKS, I guess you didn’t realize that my example was intended to be completely outrageous because that is the extreme that Palin was (unthinkingly) promising. I realize any actual legislation would be much more modest, but by conveniently not mentioning that in her speech, Palin was pandering to the hopes and fears of special needs parents.

  76. Julie, wouldn’t you think that both sides are pandering? Isn’t that what elections in the USA are all about anymore?

    Isn’t Barak Obama promising the US’ first perfect universal health care program, and a dozen other programs to improve life for the middle class – all without increasing the deficit?

    And isn’t McCain doing the same thing?

    Everything done by government has potentially fatal side affects. Everything. You pump $700B into the economy, and the dollar shrinks in value. You declare war on poverty, and end up destroying the traditional family among those poor people. The key is to wade through all the promises and see who is going to hurt our nation the least!

  77. “Julie, wouldn’t you think that both sides are pandering? ”

    Of course they are. (What did I say to give you the impression otherwise?)

    “The key is to wade through all the promises and see who is going to hurt our nation the least!”

    yeah. (Hint: not Palin.)

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