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PROGRAM — Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program

My son Levi is two and a half years old. He has some pretty significant medical issues. He has radial aplasia, which means he’s missing the radius bone of his right arm and he’s got a partial smaller radius on his left arm, which causes limb shortening. The thumb on his right hand isn’t operable. He had heart surgery at eight months old; he had colostomy surgery on day one; surgery on his throat on day two of life and he’s had surgery on his spinal cord. Most recently, he had a colorectal surgery for his GI. We believe Levi will have an IEP for the hearing impairment category, possibly speech.

Because of Levi’s latest colorectal surgery, he likely will not be like a regular preschooler getting potty-trained so he’ll need a lot of help with that. Also, with his limb differences and the possibility of having issues with his heart, and all of the issues on top of each other, it’s a lot. It’s a lot to expect from the public school system. Even though he would be entitled to receiving extra services, it’s not a guarantee those services would be available to him. Having the control over where he is and what he’s doing and what services he’s getting, that’s important to me. I hardly ever leave him with other people and I don’t want to have to do that at school either.

My two girls, Sarah, who is eight years old, and Lydia, who is four years old, are both in the ESA program. Sarah is on the autism spectrum but she’s also twice exceptional, so she’s gifted as well. She started kindergarten early and is in third grade, even though she’s the age of a second grader. She also has issues with ADHD and anxiety, plus the spectrum issues, so it makes it difficult on both sides. She was going to a charter school and we loved it. She had a great teacher last year and advocated with her so well, but it was just so hard to get her the time and services that she needed. She only got 90 minutes of speech a month with other students, there was no direct one-on-one help with her speech issues. 

Sarah is homeschooled half-time and the other half we have her at a microschool, Prenda. She loves being with other students, but it’s hard for her to learn in certain situations. She’s a great independent learner. For instance, she decided she wanted to learn Chinese, so she’s been teaching herself Chinese. I like to give her those opportunities at home, but she likes being around other students. She’s in grades 3-5 and there are 10 students in the class. 

Lydia is in a Montessori school in Copper Basin. She’s in a small class and has a great teacher. She has speech language impairment. She’s been improving more with her speech in the class with typical students and a teacher that is very involved with her one-on-one.

We initially looked into the ESA program for Lydia because of her speech issues, she was attending a Florence Unified School District developmental preschool and she was only afforded one hour, once a week of this class that had 10 other students in it. There were aides but no one-on-one help and she needed more than just articulation and the one hour, once a week, was not sufficient. It wasn’t serving her the way it needed to. We needed to find something else because we couldn’t have her in a regular preschool and a developmental preschool. It was just not adequate. 

Having the ESA program has been great. Being able to find a place that I know will serve her and being able to have the control over the services that both my girls get is amazing. Sarah sees her speech therapist in our home now every week. I’m so grateful for that and I can see the progress there. It’s really important for parents to be able to have the reins on how the public funds that are earmarked for their child, to know how that’s being used. If my daughter’s IEP changes from speech to autism spectrum disorder and her public funding increases, is she going to get that full amount of that increase in the school that she’s in? I don’t have a guarantee of that. There’s nothing that keeps the schools in Arizona from rolling those funds into other places, but now with ESA, I am able to do so much more for my children than the schools were willing or able to do.

We’re not a wealthy family by any means and we don’t hate public schools. I grew up in public schools! My husband was a public school teacher for many years. I think that funds for public education are important. I just think that parents should have more control of how they’re used, especially for vulnerable kids who need more services. I was a typical kid and didn’t need any extra services growing up. My sister was another story. If a program like this would have been available for my mom to use, it would have changed a lot for my sister. She had a hard time in school accessing the curriculum in meaningful ways and it really set her back. My mom didn’t have any other options. I’m finding the best options for my kids. We’re not taking any extra resources, in fact we’re taking less resources than we would if they were in public schools. I’m just making sure they’re getting used well.

School choice is important because I value the sovereignty of a family. I think it would be great if we could do this with all of our tax dollars. I’m okay with paying taxes. We have jobs and feed into the system. I also want to control how that’s supposed to be used for my child, for my family. I think if we have more choice and we are able to determine where we use them, we get better services. If I’m not forced to stay at the public school that’s not serving my child properly, I’ll have better outcomes for my kids and in turn, that school then doesn’t have my child as an added responsibility that they can’t meet or serve. If we had more families doing this, especially in the special education department, they wouldn’t have as many issues as meeting those kids’ needs. It’s not for everybody. Public school still serve a great need, but I think ESA is invaluable. I think there are more people that would benefit from it and if we can work on it together, we can find solutions that serve everybody.


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