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The Valley

Able to Help the Disabled

Students at Calabasas and Agoura Hills high schools launch a campaign to boost federal funding for special education.

January 16, 2003|David Pierson

As far as bandwagons go in public education, none may be as big as the one urging the federal government to make good on its pledge to fund 40% of the nation's special education costs.

It's just rare to see students jump on it.

But that's what several hundred teenagers are doing in the Las Virgenes Unified School District by sending letters to elected officials in California and Washington, D.C.

They hope to put more pressure on politicians who will soon reauthorize the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 1975 legislation that mandated a free and appropriate public education for all disabled students. The federal law promised to provide 40% of the total costs but actually provides 16.5%.

"The government should be doing a better job," said Mark Humphrey, a Calabasas High senior who advises the Las Virgenes school board and helped start the campaign at his school.

He said he was inspired in November when he heard that students at Agoura High wrote letters to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) in support of special education funding. So far, approximately 1,800 of the school's 2,100 students have mailed a standard letter.

"This is about more than just special ed," said Agoura High senior Jessica Cutrone, one of three student body leaders who devised the campaign after learning at a school board meeting about state budget cuts. "If it's fully funded, there will be more money available for other programs."

Beginning this week, 1,800 students at Calabasas High are being urged to send letters to Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee; Terry Branstad, chairman of the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education; and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Humphrey said more juniors and seniors were being asked to write to Edwards because they could soon be potential voters during his presidential bid.

Commending the students for their efforts, Edwards said Wednesday he supports full funding of special education.

President Bush has proposed $1 billion be added to the $8.7 billion the federal government currently provides. He also hopes to reach the 40% level in 10 years, said David Schnittger, a spokesman for the House Education and Workforce Committee.

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