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Gov. Palin's Budget for Special Education


In her well-received speech before delegates at the Republican National Convention last night, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska made an explicit appeal to families of children with disabilities:

...in April, my husband, Todd, and I welcomed our littlest one into the world, a perfectly beautiful baby boy named Trig. From the inside, no family ever seems typical. That's how it is with us.

Our family has the same ups and downs as any other—the same challenges and the same joys. Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge. And children with special needs inspire a special love.

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.

As many know by now, Palin's son Trig has Down syndrome.

But, while Palin was governor, did she slash special education funding from the state's budget? That was the latest charge that was flying around the Internet soon after her speech, and a reader has posted the same criticism of Palin on this blog. I've seen the same critique from posters on several Web sites now, all of whom seem to suggest that while Palin courts the disability community on the one hand, she's cutting the budget for needed services on the other.

From what I can tell, however, these charges against Palin are false, driven by a misreading of the budget documents for the state.

The "proof," as has been presented, is the part of the fiscal 2007 budget for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, which includes funding for the Alaska School for the Deaf, students who are patients at the Alaska Psychiatric Hospital, and the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy, a statewide, boot-camp-style program. The budget that year was $8,265,300.

But the next year, fiscal 2008, the budget is shown as $3,156,000, leading to the accusation that Palin cut the department's budget.

The difference in funding, however, is because the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy moved to a budget line item of its own. In the fiscal 2009 budget, you can see that the academy alone has a budget of $6,082,100. When you add that to the $3,156,000 that is being spent on all the other projects, it adds up to $9,238,100--an approximately 12 percent INCREASE in spending on all those particular programs, put together, since fiscal 2007.

It should also be noted that Alaska spends far more on education than just these few programs indicate. Education is typically one of the biggest parts of any state's budget, and in Alaska lawmakers plan to spend about $1.2 billion for fiscal 2009.

More accurate information about Palin's education record may be found at the newspapers in her state. The Anchorage Daily News, for example, ran a story in March about her approval of a large spending increase:

Gov. Sarah Palin has quietly signed into law the biggest rewrite of the state's education funding system in a decade, despite hints that she might veto the package.

Palin had said last week the package was incomplete. Lawmakers responded with a threat to override any veto.

She signed the bill Thursday without ceremony, applauding lawmakers' efforts in a news release.

The legislation phases in increases to per-pupil spending, increases to students with special needs and adjustments to cost factors that compensate school districts outside Anchorage for their steeper costs. It's expected to add an extra $180 million to school districts over the next five years.

Edited to add: I'd be remiss if I didn't include the reporting of my own colleague, Sean Cavanagh, who covers Alaska as one of his beats. He wrote earlier this year that the legislature and governor approved a bill that raises spending for students with special needs to $73,840 in fiscal 2011, from the current $26,900 per student in fiscal 2008.

Added 9/5: It's the blog post that keeps on growing! Reader "Sunny" asked in the comments why Palin was originally reluctant to sign the education bill, as stated in the Anchorage Daily News article I quote above. A short article I found in the newspaper's archives suggests that she didn't want to sign the bill because she wanted more money for schools included in it:

Gov. Sarah Palin says she will approve an education funding bill despite some qualms that schools could be shortchanged next year.

Palin hinted on Thursday that she could veto the bill, which was based on recommendations from this summer's Joint Legislative Education Task Force and had widespread support from lawmakers.

Palin wanted to raise the base student allocation, currently $5,380 per pupil, by $200, but the Legislature only approved $100.


Also see this


Which is the 2009 budget for Department of Education and Early Development
Student and School Achievement

Which has also provides special needs money:

The governor increased money from

126,655.7 to 158,237.2

Thanks Rory!

Sorry my grammar was so bad, I was at work and in a rush to get home.

Your welcome. Thanks for setting the facts straight.

My problem is not with the amount of funding that she has provided to students with special needs, since Trig Palin will likely go to a private school if he is raised in Washington DC.

My BIG problem is her assertion and the idea by many others that she is somehow heroic for not aborting Trig when she knew that he had Down Syndrome. To cite this as an example of the strength her pro-life status while at the same time talking about how parents of students with special needs will have a voice in the white house. People who have students with disabilities are proud to have them and to assert the idea that someone is a good person because they did not terminate their pregnancy is a slap in the face to every woman who carried a person with disabilities for nine months and then raised them without even batting an eye.

Re: kdruben post

This is so typical of the smear campaign being run against Governor Palin. You make one charge, and it is debunked. Then you switch gears and say that your concern was really about something else.

The fact is she increased funding for education significantly. She wanted even bigger increases for schools, but the legislature balked at her request.

But, did she increase the spending or did Congress I am confused as to why she was going to veto - what did she want added in that wasn't there

Sunny, I'm not sure I understand your question. Could you point me in the direction of where you're getting your information about a veto, and maybe I can clear up your question.

from the Anchorage Daily News which stated she quietly signed into legiislature ... though she hinted at veto the bill - why the veto what did she want that wasn't in the bill

What do you mean, you don't understand the question? Just read your own article. You write that:

"Gov. Sarah Palin has quietly signed into law the biggest rewrite of the state's education funding system in a decade, despite hints that she might veto the package. Palin had said last week the package was incomplete. Lawmakers responded with a threat to override any veto."

Sunny's question is a good one. It sounds like she opposed the budget increase for education and special ed and only signed on when legislators threatened to override her veto.

That's a whole different story from the one you are spinning.

Bernard, I'm not "spinning" a thing, so the combativeness is unnecessary.

Your interpretation that "said last week that the package was incomplete" is somehow equivalent to opposing a budget increase and caving in the face of a veto override threat seems inaccurate to me. A plain reading would suggest that "the package is incomplete" means she wanted something else in the budget package that wasn't there by the time it got to her desk. Is it possible she wanted more funding for other education initiatives but wasn't getting it?

I don't know the answer, but I will try to find out and post here. If you have another source of information I should check out, just let me know.

Thanks for a great article Christina! Lots of great info with real sources.

Thanks for sharing information and giving links to original resources. I appreciate your willingness to find answers to questions that many people are asking and your willingness to state that some things being portrayed may not be the whole story and where to find answers. This helps readers make up their own minds based on the information given. Keep up the good work.

The issue for me doesn't have anything to so with whether or not she did or didn't support education budgets (Alaska is flush with cash). My issue with gov Palin is that she seems to be using her little boy for political gain. I don't really think she needs to wave him in front of the RNC audience to make a political point. Certainly she could be just as helpful to the families of the developmentally mentally disabled "off-stage". Strange that I have never heard her say much about Trig (I am a resident of Juneau AK)prior to her VP nomination. I certainly have never seen them together at a public gathering in the capitol city. She was very "guarded" during her pregnancy and I respect that. For someone who wants to leave "families out of it", she sure doesn't have a problem throwing them "into it".


Thank you for the research on this matter. I wonder if you could clarify something for me, please. You started with the 2007 budget as a reference for whether spending would increase or decrease. You then said that the 2008 budget for Special Education was $3.156 million, but explained that the budget for the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy (ACYA) was moved to its own line item. You then showed the line item for the 2009 budget.

What I'm curious about is this: What was the 2008 budget for the ACYA program, when you said it was put on its own line item? And what was the budget for the rest of the Special Education program for 2009? It appears (and this may be why I'm confused) that you have added the 2008 Special Education line item to a 2009 ACYA line item and said, "See, it went up." But is that the case when one looks at the total 2008 budget for Special Education and AYCA and the total 2009 budget for Special Education and ACYA?

Thank you very much. And if the answers were staring me in the face, I apologize. State budgets can be confusing to read sometimes.

Keep up the great work.

Wayne, you're absolutely right that I did jump around in years, and part of that was just based on what I could easily find at the time I was putting together the post. I wanted to be careful not to introduce more errors by assuming something I hadn't seen with my own eyes. Now, I've had a chance to dig in more...

In FY 2008, the budget for those special school programs (just a tiny fraction of what's spent on spec ed in the state, it should be repeated) was $3.156 million. It *appears* (I could be wrong) that the youth academy moved off to its own line item in FY 2008, and that the budget for the academy that year was $5.709 million. I'm looking at this document to get that info -- it has funding for the academy for the past three FYs.


For FY 2008, the funding for all these programs together was $8.865 million, if I'm adding things right.

Sooo...that brings us to FY 2009. Again, all the other programs were level-funded at $3.156 million; there was no change there, and I should have made that more clear. However, the youth academy saw a small increase in funding, to about $6.082 million. So that gets us to $9.238 million.

Does that answer your question? I hope so! Let me know if this still isn't adding up quite right for you.

I got a direct email from someone who was upset that I wasn't talking about special education budget as a whole. I just want to note that the rumor of budget cuts in the state did not start based on someone looking at the spec ed budget as a whole. It was based on someone who made an interpretation based on a *handful* of programs that are classified as spec ed. Therefore, that's what I've stuck with here -- but it seems clear to me from other articles that Alaska, like many wealthy states, is spending a lot of money on education. I cover Wyoming in addition to special education, and Wyoming is also seeing an increase in ed spending due to natural gas and mineral revenues.

I also don't mean to suggest that there are no other programs that the governor or the legislature may have cut even while raising spending overall; I just don't know enough about Alaska governance to say. But I do feel comfortable saying when people use the "62 percent cut" phrase in criticizing Gov. Palin, they're repeating an erroneous interpretation of the budget.

One thing I don't see being covered in these remarks is that the Daily Kos article is accurate in one respect.

While a good deal of the "cut" money, was reallocated into a seperate item for the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy and the ammount for that program was increased, that still means that less money was available for the non-ACYA programs. The ones aimed at special needs adults, for instance.

Those programs WERE cut by Palin.

Thank you, Christine. Very good. I understand about posting what you could find at the time; I've done it myself.

I appreciate you filling in the gaps. It appears that the allegation of funds-cutting was unwarranted after all. Where possible, I shall correct poeple who use that "talking point".

Good luck with your blog. I'll stop by from time to time to see what else I need to know about education.

Thanks Wayne!

Matt, (or anyone else), please point me in the direction of the Kos diary that talks about cuts to programs for adults with disabilities. My beat is K-12 spec ed., so this is outside of my coverage area, but I'm curious.

This is the first time I have visited this blog and I will say I'm extremely impressed on the seemingly low level of partisanship.
On the topic, I would have blown a gasket if her reducing funding for Special Ed. was true. I think both McCain and Palin have it in for Public Education which was made very clear through McCains "competition" comment during his exceptance speech. It is my opinion that because the Republicans feel that "God" is being moved out of public schools, the only way to keep there base happy for the long haul, would be to privatize education nationally. Moreover, I feel that was the goal of NCLB, as an unfunded mandate, it simply sets schools up for failure. At that point Rep.s can simply say "See we told you they are failing!"
I'm unconcerned about abortion, I think guns are a state issue, I think we need to maintain or even increase our military forces, and I think burning flags should be a crime. With that said, public education is public education. It ensures that our nation is learning the same things, in the same way. If that institution is left to fall by the way side, I fear for the future of this country. Capitalism most stop at the school house door.

What is the Alaska Youth Challenge Academy?

From Democratic Underground:

"There's more to the story. Let's look at this in context.

What happened to Alaska's budget during 2008-2009? It went up as oil revenues continued to soar. The Alaska Legislature authorized spending of $8.541 billion in 2007 (gov.state.ak.us/omb/07_OMB/07VetoesFiscalSumm.pdf). In 2009 the authorization was 9.873 billion, http://www.gov.state.ak.us/omb/09_omb/budget/bills/09_f... ) an increase of $1.332 billion or 15.6% over two years, a percentage significantly more than the increase special needs kids got. So special needs kids got less than the average budget increase that everyone else got. I guess they're not so "special."

Is this 11.4% increase for real? It's not really very much when you factor in inflation. The Anchorage Consumer Price Index advanced 4.6% over the past year (http://www.bls.gov/ro9/cpianch.htm ). Assuming an increase of 3% for the rest of the fiscal year, that would mean about a 3-4% real increase in funding over her first two years. Big deal.

Now, about 2/3 of the special needs funding goes to the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy. In 2008, Palin proposed spending $1 million less than the Legislature wanted on that program, according to he Association of Alaska School Boards. http://www.aasb.org/PDF\'s/LegiBull/030207.htm

But what is the heck is the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy? Googling it brings up nothing about what it actually does, except the state budget report which only states that "This instructional program is operated in Anchorage with student enrollees from across the state. Students work on challenging academic programs in a “boot camp” environment. Completing high school and building career goals and skills are the goals." http://www.gov.state.ak.us/omb/09_omb/budget/EED/comp28... Not much about special needs here.

Nor is there anything about it from the Alaska Division of Public Assistance or SERRC - Alaska’s Educational Resource Center - on its special needs page. The Alaska Family directory for schools is silent too. http://www.asd.k12.ak.us/AFD

So what gives? Is this really a special needs program or something else?"

Mrs. Samuels thank you very much for setting the record straight.


Hi Ross! The Alaska Youth Challenge Academy seems to be a boot-camp style program open to teens statewide, based on the description in the budget documents.

That boot camp is not for special needs kids. It's for AT RISK kids to complete high school & get career training. Yes, I'm sure special needs end up mis-classified as "bad kids" and in someplace like this - which is HORRIBLE.

That's probably why it was separated. Unless you can take that amount out of the 07 budget, you don't know how much changed for ACTUAL special needs programs.

Adding the two back together makes absolutely NO sense. Please feel free to prove me wrong :)

Thank you for factchecking this situation. I am very happy to have been corrected. That rumor is INCREDIBLY misleading and I'm glad to know the truth, as much as it may be. I'm very glad that Sarah Palin is in fact true in some of the things she says. As someone who could have used more help in school due to my own visual impairment. I applaud her support for increasing funds for special needs students. That indeed was part of a smear campaign or at least an issue that was misunderstood and propagated as truth before understanding the budget.

However, the issue about her parading her son around as evidence that anti-choice & overturning Roe V. Wade is good for the country, instead of vowing to throw funding into any and all science that could lead to actually curing her son (and myself) is what concerns me.

This isn't the 70's anymore. We are around the corner from curing these illnesses and we're stuck in a debate from several decades ago. My parents are still heroes even though I wasn't diagnosed with a genetic disorder until just before my freshman year of high school. Special needs education was okay, more money at the time wouldn't have helped that much. The point is that this shouldn't even be a conversation about education. It's a Medical/Disability issue. She could be championing finding CURES. I am, in fact, deeply concerned that she isn't willing to discuss my rights and Trig's to a 'normal' life. She is more concerned with the rights of those not yet living instead of helping to improve the quality of my life.

Education is something that all officials need to think about. I remember the saying that children are the treasure of the nation. Let us hope to have good budget for education.

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