Monday, December 12, 2011

In Midst of Impending Court Fight, Arizona Families Prosper With School Choice

Although Aaron McLemore, a student participant in Arizona's
Empowerment Savings Accounts Program, has thrived as a result of
school choice, the future of the program remains in jeopardy.
An Arizona lawsuit filed to prevent special needs students from participating in a new form of school choice is likely headed to the state Supreme Court.

The Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program allows children identified as having a disability to receive 90 percent of state funding to use on a variety of educational tools including tuition and fees, textbooks, educational therapies, tutoring, and college courses.

This program, commonly called an education savings accounts or ESA, puts parents—not schools or bureaucracies—in charge of education dollars.

But opponents, including the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Education Association, want to prevent this program from moving forward.  Instead of putting the power in the hands of parents (who know their children best), special interests want the status quo for special needs children.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has taken the case, Niehaus v. Huppenthal, on behalf of participating families and supporters of school choice.  According to the IJ , ESAs are constitutional because they offer a wide variety of educational choices.

The Goldwater Institute has also joined in the fight to help families.

But while lawyers battle it out for educational choice in the courts, we must remember that this program helps real families; just ask the McLemores.

When Kelly McLemore’s son Aaron was diagnosed with autism at age 3, she immediately enrolled him in the public preschool.  In a self-contained classroom, Aaron struggled every day.

He didn't socialize well with the other students or his teacher.  He often had outbursts of anger and was aggressive towards others.  Kelly would keep Aaron home several days each week to give the teacher a break.

“My concern,” Kelly said, “was that not all kids learn the same.  Not all disabilities are the same.”

When she heard on the news about a new school choice program that utilized education savings accounts, Kelly immediately applied.  As the first family in the state to submit an application for the program, the McLemores were soon approved to participate.

Now in first grade at Chrysalis Academy, Aaron has made significant improvements.

“He is more calm and relaxed,” Kelly said. “Aaron is interactive now with adults and other kids.  He does tasks that are requested of him and is paying attention.”

Aaron is able to watch television with his family, play with his three brothers and the dog, and has shown an interest in computers.

“This is what I’ve been praying for for three years,” said Kelly.  “My son can be active and productive in society now.”

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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