By Shaun Boyd

LAPORTE, Colo. (CBS4)– If you ever wondered whether writing your representative really makes a difference, just ask 7th graders at Cache La Poudre Middle School in Laporte. They wrote Rep. Joe Neguse, a Democrat representing Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, about the need for more special education funding, none of them have disabilities, and Neguse followed through.

A special education class (credit: CBS)

Neguse went to visit the kids and then got $1 billion in additional funding in a bill that passed the House with bi-partisan support. Neguse said the money is long overdue.

In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but 40 years later it’s only 15% funded.

“The reality is it’s an unfulfilled promise to so many students and parents across the country because of the lack of adequate funding,” said Neguse.

Rep. Joe Neguse and Dennis Rastater (credit: CBS)

Dennis Rastater says it’s a civil rights issue. As Executive Director of Special Education for the Boulder Valley School District, he oversees the education of 4,000 kids or 12% of the student body.

“We have kids who are medically fragile who may require support and services from a one-on-one nurse, we have students who may need to be fed, certainly diapered,” said Rastater.

Dennis Rastater (credit: CBS)

He said the money will help not only kids with disabilities but all students because school districts are now back-filling to meet the federal mandate. Ultimately, he says it’s about helping every kid reach their full potential.

“The most important part of what I do in my work is to make sure every kid understands and has the skills to become a contributing member of society. Often times it feels like we’re out on an island fighting for the needs and rights, quite frankly, of students with disabilities,” said Rastater.

Rep. Joe Neguse (credit: CBS)

Not anymore. Neguse says he is optimistic the bill will pass the Senate and he has introduced a separate bill to fully fund the decades-old law.

“The students are just incredibly inspiring young people and I have no doubt that they’ll be able to achieve the dreams that they have, unlimited potential, if we make the right investments,” said Neguse.

Shaun Boyd

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