In her first policy speech of the presidential campaign, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin vowed Oct. 25 that a McCain administration would allow all special-needs students the choice of attending private schools at public expense–a controversial and potentially costly proposal likely to be welcomed by many parents and bitterly opposed by many school districts, reports the New York Times. Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, also promised that she and Sen. John McCain would finally give public schools the federal money that was promised when the law covering students with special needs was passed in 1975. Her pledge was intended to address the top concern of many school districts, and it’s one that has been made by many other politicians but never fulfilled. The federal special-education law required districts to provide a "free, appropriate public education" to all students with disabilities, who at the time the law was enacted were often declared "ineducable" or were essentially warehoused. The federal government was eventually to pay 40 percent of the cost, but its share hovered in the single digits for years and is now at about 17 percent, with the bulk assumed by state and local governments. The costs of special education have increased sharply as learning disabilities have been diagnosed among more students and as medical technology has allowed children who once would not have survived to attend school. It is not uncommon for those costs to account for half a school district’s budget, and many districts complain that they have to cut programs and increase class sizes for regular education programs to keep up. The proposal to provide school choice for special-needs students is likely to meet with fierce resistance from school districts and teachers unions, as well as those who may see it as the first step to allowing all parents to use public money to attend private or parochial schools. The McCain campaign has promised a federal spending freeze on all but essential programs if McCain becomes president, but on Oct. 25 it said the special-needs program would be exempt from that…

 

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