Students get taste of state politics

Twenty-two students representing Northwood, Irvine, Woodbridge, University and Creekside high schools, along with administrative staff, attended a PTSA-funded trip to Sacramento on March 29 to advocate an increase in the education budget.

"High school students will soon be our future legislators," said Lisa McMains, legislative action chair of Northwood High's PTSA. "We want to afford several students the opportunity to experience some of the steps in state legislation and meet with our local and state representatives to hopefully influence the lawmaking process. This is a great opportunity to engage in the process and conquer student apathy."

Led by Bob Blatner, the Irvine Unified School District's lobbyist, the students met several key government staff members and legislators, including education policy consultant John Mockler, who authored Proposition 98; Rick Simpson, deputy chief of staff to the Assembly speaker; Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine); representatives of the Legislative Analyst's Office; and the staff of state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). The students also briefly encountered Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) during a press conference.

Before the trip, the students attended a number of meetings with their school faculty members as well as members of the IUSD Board of Education, including Supt. Gwen Gross and representatives Gavin Huntley-Fenner and Sharon Wallin.

During these meetings, students addressed their concerns from the budget cut and how it would diminish public education. With the possibility of increasing class sizes and decreasing extracurricular programs, students felt that they should urgently bring these issues to the attention of state legislators.

"Frankly, the Legislature is like a violin," Blatner said. "It is not an instrument for amateurs. You have 600 people in the Department of Finance who put together the budget. There is only a handful at the top, and the rest of them are making these enormous decisions that impact the entire state, and no one knows who they are."

While the trip was meant to advocate continued funding towards IUSD, it also served other purposes for the students that attended. To junior Calvin Tjandra of University High School, the defining moment was "sitting at [his] future desk in the state senate."

KATHERINE LU and ANGELA LUH are IUSD students who went on the trip to Sacramento.

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