PROGRAM — Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program

My name is Justine Cherney and my son Emmett is seven years old and in first grade. We’re part of the ESA program because he has an autism diagnosis. He wants to be a fireman when he grows up.

We found out about the ESA program because we were really frustrated in our public school setting and the special needs programs that we have in place. We were frustrated because we felt we got the run around between the politics of what they could do and how they could help us. We felt like our son was falling behind. 

We had parent/teacher conferences and what they were saying performance in school was far behind what we were seeing at home, so we were trying to communicate with them that there was a disconnect. We spent all this money on advocates and other things and it just wasn’t improving.

As far as the ESA is concerned, at first we were really unsure about it because we were big advocates of public schools, but for us it’s been the biggest blessing. Our experience this year has been so amazing as far as being able to pick our therapies. The school we chose has really helped our son. With autism, it’s a social issue and the school is small so he’s really grown. 

When you have a special needs child, you try everything you can. There are very few options and so ESA gave us so much hope. He’s succeeding now in his academic goals and social goals. None of that would be possible without this program. 

Parents need school choice because public school isn’t necessarily the right fit for every child. I think if we pay the tax dollars, we should have the option as to where it’s sent. My child finally has the right environment to learn, to be social. He now has friends; he aces all his tests. It’s a complete turnaround from last year. It makes me feel that maybe this will give him the chance that he wouldn’t have been able to have at his previous school. 

All children are different and learn differently. ESA gives us the freedom to do the best thing we can do for my son. I feel like in the situation we were in before, it was one formula for every child with autism, but the spectrum is so wide and that formula doesn’t fit everyone.

I’m so thankful for school choice and for the ESA program. It makes me so emotional. Our family dynamic has changed. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted because there is no adversity like when your child is struggling.

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