AZ Mother reacts to the NV lawsuit filed to shut down the state’s ESA program

By Kim Martinez

Kathy Visser can relate to the stress many parents in Nevada are facing with the recent lawsuit filed against the state’s school choice program. Kathy lived through the same anxiety with her son Jordan, who has cerebral palsy and dyslexia, while Arizona became the first state in the nation to enact education savings accounts, or ESAs.

Kathy was one of the very first Arizona mothers to apply for an ESA in 2011, the year the program became available. She was at her wits end with Jordan’s public school and the lack of progress he was making. As a former public school teacher it was agony watching time tick by while Jordan stayed stagnant in his education. Similar to over 2,000 families in Nevada, Kathy jumped at the opportunity to apply for an ESA when she first heard about the program and Jordan was one of the very first students accepted. Kathy would now have the power to control the funds that are going toward Jordan’s education. She decided she would need to custom design Jordan’s education and she chose a mix of home schooling, private school classes, tutors and therapists. Things immediately got better for Jordan, Kathy and the entire family.

Then a lawsuit, similar to the ACLUs lawsuit in Nevada, was filed. The goal was to shut down ESAs in Arizona completely. As Kathy recollects, the anxiety and stress came flooding back:

When a parent applies for an ESA, what do you think is going through their minds?

There is an immense sense of hope that our children finally have a chance to be educated.

When the ESA program came along in Arizona, what did you think?

We applied after a year and a half of fighting with school administrators and spending $10,000, attempting to get them to follow the law regarding our son’s “Free and Appropriate Education.”  We were financially tapped out. The stress between dealing with our son’s challenges and having to fight the very people whose job it was to help him, was tearing our family apart.  When I heard first about the program I was not sure I could believe what I was hearing. Most of the people we knew didn’t believe me when I talked about our son’s treatment at our school. People out there that didn’t even know us had heard our cry for help and provided a way out of a system that is designed to keep children like our son dependent on public assistance for life. 

When you found out a lawsuit was filed to shut down the program, how did you feel?

Where were these people with all this money, to pay lawyers, and the energy to fight against a working solution, when we were fighting to get the public school to educate our child?

When you found out Arizona Courts ruled in favor of keeping the ESA program in place, what was your reaction?

Relieved that justice, protecting my child’s rights to an education, had prevailed.

What would you as a parent like to see happen in Nevada for the over 2,000 families who have applied for ESAs?

I sincerely hope they will be able to use the ESA program while the courts are dealing with the opposition.  Those families made the choice because their children needed a choice.  The individuals in opposing organizations need to educate themselves on the facts surrounding the children who the system is failing.

It is my understanding that the people of Nevada are facing a shortage of classroom space and the ability to meet the needs of all of their students.  The people of Nevada choose to make a change to make their educational system better. Parents are not going to leave a system that is successfully educating their children. An ESA system will relieve the overcrowding, allowing all children the opportunity to excel.

Jordan is going into his fifth school year using an ESA, how is he doing now?

Because of the ESA Jordan has had access to the professional services he has needed.  I had the choice to pull him from the private school and use the funds to hire a vision teacher to instruct him. Because of her knowledge base and skills Jordan is no longer visually impaired. If he was in the public school system, he would still have this disability. Now we have now moved on to a reading teacher who specializes in working with children with dyslexia. Despite his struggles, Jordan loves reading. He has also progressed from having to do all of his math using manipulatives, to being able to calculate change in his head. With the ESA he was able to attend a Social Thinking program run by Speech and Language pathologists and is making great strides in his verbal communication and his awareness of others. He was also able to attend group therapy where he was helping other children learn the skills he has squired. If he was still in public school we would have had to have a meeting where his educational team would have produced the necessary documentation to deny him services in the summer. With the ESA we have eliminated the “Summer Slide” that teachers typically spend the first few weeks of school recouping and Jordan is thriving.

Recently Kathy sent us this video of Jordan riding his bike. He has made so much progress and gained independence while using an ESA that he is able to ride his bike to his friend’s house.