Two School Choice Programs, $56 Million in Donations, One Great Week for Arizona Kids

By Kim Martinez

When the new fiscal year started last Wednesday, no one expected that within days two school choice programs, both giving scholarships to disadvantaged kids, would have each hit their donation caps in record time. With the combined $57 million donated by Arizona’s business community, they sent a clear message that they believe underprivileged kids, children with special needs, and foster children should all have the option to find an educational environment that works for them.

The first program to cap out was the Corporate Tuition Tax Credit which hit it’s highest cap ever, $52 million in only three days. Two days later, the Arizona Department of Revenue announced Lexi’s Law also capped out at $5 million. To date, this is by far the biggest show of support in the history of these two programs, demonstrating that Tuition Tax Credits are at an all-time high in popularity.

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Lexi enjoying her day school

It was many years ago when Phoenix mother Andrea Weck-Robertson starting fighting alongside the state legislature for a tax credit scholarship for children with special needs. Andrea’s daughter Lexi was in pre-school and diagnosed with low-functioning autism, mild mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

“At the public school she was attending, they wanted to basically put her in a glorified babysitting program, they didn’t feel like they could teach her,” remembers Andrea.

She couldn’t give up on her daughter’s education so she was gifted money from family members to start Lexi in a specialized private school. Being a single mother she knew she had to find financial help to keep her there. She was able to receive a voucher, but it soon was taken away when Arizona courts ruled vouchers to be unconstitutional. So Andrea turned to Arizona’s business community and fought to get kids, like Lexi, tuition tax credit scholarships. From one mother’s love for her daughter and a “never give up attitude,” Lexi’s Law was born.

When Andrea found out the cap was hit this week, her voice was quivering with joy.

“Thinking back to where we started and where we are now, I’m just so happy,” says Andrea. “I am so proud and grateful that the fight we started years ago has grown into a program that is now receiving an outpouring of support! The future will be bright for hundreds of other children with special needs because their parents will have the means to choose the best school for their child.”

Lexi, now 14, is fully communicative through using her IPad and through sign language. Her mom says she is reaching all of the goals set in her individualized education plan.

While Lexi’s Law helps hundreds of kids with special needs each year, the Corporate Tuition Tax Credit program helps thousands of children from low-income families attend private school. Through the more than $51 million donated this year, Arizona School Tuition Organizations (STOs) will be able to continue helping the students currently in the program and grant even more scholarships to students on their waiting lists.

Nydia Salazar, 17, will be a senior during the upcoming school year at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix. The Corporate Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program changed her life and gave her opportunities her single mother Maria could not have afforded on her own. Maria and Nydia immigrated to the U.S. from Peru when Nydia was a small child.

“When we arrived in the U.S. I told Nydia that if I work hard to support us and she works hard to learn in school, we would find the opportunities we came here for,” says Maria Salazar. “I was so relieved, excited and, most of all, grateful when I found out Nydia would have a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s. It was everything I promised Nydia all those years ago.”

Nydia says she will one day go into the medical field and is considering becoming a cardiologist.

Parents looking for information on the Corporate Tuition Tax Credit scholarship or Lexi’s Law scholarship programs can visit the Arizona Department of Revenue website where there is a list of all approved School Tuition Organizations.