Samantha Jones – My School Choice Story

In July, AFC had the honor of hosting several of its Young Alumni Speakers and future alumni and their family in Washington, D.C. Although their time in the district was short, their presence was felt far and wide. Each of them visited Capitol Hill to tell their story of how school choice impacted their lives. The following is a personal summary of this amazing opportunity.  

Why is school choice important to you?

Without school choice, I would not be where I am today. Growing up in a low-income household with a single mom of four girls, we could not afford a quality education. School supplies were something I looked forward to every year. I was on the free lunch program in each of the six elementary schools I attended, all in the lower income neighborhoods of Brandon, MS and Tucson, AZ. I’ve moved 19 times in my life. Yet school was always a place where I could succeed. However, the public-school system did not provide me with the opportunities and educational development I needed.

School choice allowed me the opportunity to attend a private school, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, from 6th through 12th grade. My mom worked hard to provide for us and help me, and later my sisters, be accepted into this school. However, the tuition was over $8,000 a year, so without the Arizona tax refund program, I would not have been able to attend. Having the choice to go to a private school offered me the opportunities that public school could not. I had smaller class sizes, more rigorous courses, and relationships with peers and teachers. In high school I was a member of the National Honors Society, was class secretary sophomore and senior year, took multiple AP classes, and graduated third in my class. With the help of school vouchers, I was able to take my AP exams and SAT tests, which resulted in my being accepted to more than 10 colleges and universities, including Pepperdine University, Seattle Pacific University, and Northern Arizona University. I was offered a total of over $525,000 in merit scholarships. None of this would have been possible without school choice. I am now at Northern Arizona University studying to be an art teacher in at-risk inner-city schools.

What are three of your personal proof points that school choice works?

  • School choice gave me the opportunities needed to beat the statistics of poverty. I was able to prep and take the AP tests and SAT exams that got me accepted into college as a first-generation student.
  • I can now help other students trapped by the system of unequal education and poverty.
  • Without school choice, students are stuck within the confines of their zip code. All children should have an equal opportunity to get a quality education despite social class.

Why was this trip to DC so important to you?

This trip was significant to me because it gave me the opportunity to tell my story of how school choice changed my life. Being able to actually talk to influential people about the importance of this issue is what made this trip so important to me. It provided connections for future opportunities and reaffirmed my passion for changing the education system. Other than political connections, the friends I’ve made both in Indianapolis and D.C. have helped me see just how much school choice impacts students differently, yet significantly alike. Overall, I had a very busy, but amazing and important time.

What was your best memory from your visit? Why?

While this short trip was filled with many great memories, I would say my favorite moment was seeing and taking photos with Speaker Paul Ryan on the Speaker’s balcony! I also loved spending time with the other Voices for Choice members, we all get along great and I love sharing my story alongside them. We were sad to depart and look forward to working together again, hopefully soon!