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When Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) on November 19, Daryl Gates, a middle school teacher from Shreveport, Louisiana, felt like Christmas had come early. "This IDEA will put a smile on the face of the average educator and improve the chance his or her students will get a good education," says Gates, who teaches reading and language arts to seventh- and eighth-grade special ed students at Youree Middle School.
While the new law is far from ideal, it's a big improvement, Gates says. He was following the action in Congress very closely because he's one of 26 educators who make up the NEA special education "cadre." They make sure that NEA lobbyists go armed with real classroom stories when they lobby Congress, and that classroom educators know the latest developments in the law.
An improved IDEA was a top priority for NEA, and to achieve it, Gates and other cadre members helped to mobilize educators as citizen lobbyists working with their own Washington legislators to make sure those writing the law understood the views of those who will carry it out.
In 2002-03, to …