Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin today delivered her first-ever policy address, promising to be an advocate for families with special-needs children.
Immediately after the address, she headed for the airport to board a campaign plane for Missouri, where she is scheduled to give a deposition in the Troopergate case that has dented her image as a reformer in her home state of Alaska.
Today's speech, given in a ballroom at the Airport Marriott, carried no dollar figures, but was filled with pledges that a John McCain administration would fully fund the Individuals with Educational Disabilities Act and extend federal funding to states to fully provide educational services to special-needs students.
In 1975 the federal government agreed to pay 40 percent of the cost of education for children with special-needs, leaving states to pay the rest.
Although that policy is now 33 years old, the money was never appropriated, leaving the states short by $16 billion -- money Ms. Palin said she and her running mate are committed to providing.
"Portions of IDEA funding have actually decreased since 2005," she said. "This is a matter of reprioritizing."
She alluded to $18 billion in special earmarks written into the federal budget for pet projects and suggested that eliminating them would more than fully fund the federal government's share of special education.
"You're going to see reform and re-focus," she said.
Ms. Palin gave the speech before an invitation-only audience of approximately 350 -- many of them parents and families with special-needs children, some others active in the anti-abortion movement.
Some were there as professionals who work in the field -- one that has received scant attention in the course of the 2008 campaign.
Kathi Johnson, of Bethel Park, who works with Southwestern Human Services and Early Intervention Specialists -- agencies that deal with special-needs children -- said she was pleased with Ms. Palin's reference the needs of families to meet long-term care of special-needs children.
"What most impressed me today was her plan about long-term care for parents of special-needs children," she said.
Ms. Palin made reference to the struggles of families with special-needs children, particularly the difficulty in planning for them in adulthood, after their parents are gone.
Also in the audience was Andrea Tuccillo, a Marshall woman with a grown special-needs son. She was pleased with the pledge for full funding of IDEA and said she was intrigued by the proposal to make special education funds portable.
She said she was less pleased that Ms. Palin made no reference to waiver funding for special-needs adults who require post-high school training and education after age 21.
Such funding comes through the federal Medicaid program but lack sufficient funds for all applicants.
"There is a tremendous waiting list," Ms. Tuccillo said.
At one point, Ms. Palin mentioned trust funds established by some families for the care of children, and suggested that Democratic nominee Barack Obama wants to tax them.
"Our opponent in this election wants to raise taxes on precisely these kinds of arrangements," she said. "The burden that his plan would impose upon these families is just one more example of how many plans can be disrupted and how many futures can be placed at risk.
"Our opponents has an ideological commitment to higher taxes."
The Obama campaign issued a statement calling Ms.
Palin's assertion about taxing trust funds "blatantly false."
"This is crazy," said Sean Smith, an Obama
Pennsylvania spokesman. "She's just making stuff up."
Ms. Palin also committed a McCain-Palin administration to allow parents to carry the federal portion of funding for their special-needs children from public to private or religious schools without bureaucratic roadblocks.
After mingling with attendees for 15 minutes, Ms Palin decamped from Pittsburgh. Her campaign itinerary listed her destination as Springfield, Missouri, where she was to attend a rally, then on to Branson National Airport and then St. Louis.
The St. Louis stop listed her attendance at a hockey game but did not mention a key stop -- a deposition to be given in an ongoing investigation into allegations that she improperly intervened to have her former brother-in-law dismissed from the Alaska state police after a bitter divorce.
Traveling press aides referred inquiries to the McCain press office in Washington, which did not immediately respond to questions.