January 24, 2019

It’s National School Choice Week, so we thought we would share firsthand stories of those who know the value of school choice best—parents who have used school choice to help their children.

In the above video, we hear from Arizona mom Holland Hines who describes her experience with the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts as “amazing.” Under the program (also known as ESAs or education savings accounts), the state deposits part of a student’s funds from the state education formula into a private account—money that the parent can then use toward tuition, tutoring, and other educational tools of their choosing.

Here’s how her son Elias, who was diagnosed with autism, benefitted from the program:

I knew that I would be able to get him in a position where we would be making the choices, where we would make the decisions that we knew were best for him. We knew him best…

There’s a sense of ownership, there’s a sense of engagement, in everything that happens for that child. And this empowers not just the parents but the children to say this is what I need, this is what I like, this is what I don’t like. You don’t just have to go along.

Holland and Elias’s story isn’t the only one.

Kelly and Aaron McLemore

When Aaron McLemore was diagnosed with autism at age 3, it was apparent he would need special help. Aaron was placed in a class with many students of varying needs, but his mother, Kelly, felt he was being overlooked.

Kelly was first in line when Arizona introduced its education savings account program. “We were very, very thrilled” to receive the savings account, she said. She used her account to help cover tuition at Chrysalis Academy, which specializes in helping students like Aaron.

“We’re grateful to have the education savings account. We noticed a change from the moment he started going to Chrysalis.” At Chrysalis, Aaron receives speech and occupational therapy in addition to his academics, improving his learning and behavior.

“Without that scholarship fund, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to send Aaron to Chrysalis,” Kelly said.

In a 2013 report, Goldwater Institute senior fellow Jonathan Butcher wrote about how other parents viewed the ESA program. One story, in particular, stands out:

Kimber Cartwright was optimistic when her son’s teacher said he would be moved to a different classroom. Doctors had diagnosed Kimber’s son, David, with multiple special needs, including cerebral palsy, sensory integration dysfunction, and microcephaly (a neurological condition), so Kimber knew David could benefit from more individual attention. Weeks went by and still David was not moved, which frustrated Kimber. “My son was being completely left behind with no attention whatsoever,” Kimber says.

When education savings accounts became a reality in Arizona in 2011, Kimber jumped at the opportunity for David. “So far, it’s been the best experience,” she says. “We’ve been able to choose what school he goes to, what therapies he uses, and even add extra curriculum to the private school that he’s in.”

You can read more about the benefits of ESAs at GoldwaterInstitute.org/empowerment.