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Students Make Special Plea for Education Funds

January 17, 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 in the Las Virgenes Unified School District are doing 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 only 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 Agoura'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 hearing about state budget cuts when she attended a school board meeting. "If it's fully funded, there will be more money available for other programs."

Beginning this week, the 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 that 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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