July 14, 2020

At an 18-month checkup, Prisca Walton was told that her young children were at risk for autism. As children with special needs, they needed an education that could help them meet the challenges they faced more effectively. That’s where Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program came in, helping Prisca pay for tools and training to help meet their needs. She says that having an ESA has made it possible for her children to do better.

But government hasn’t made it easy for her and her family. The Department of Education challenged her spending on an educational software designed for kids with autism—even though they’d approved her spending on the same software just a couple of years earlier. This inconsistency scared Prisca, leaving her to wonder whether the support her children needed could be rescinded on a whim.

Prisca says there are many moms like her who need the ESA program—and need it to function as it was designed to. “We need the services. We want better for our children. I used to be poor. I want better for my children.” The Goldwater Institute is stepping in to fight for Prisca and other families who benefit from ESAs and who are suffering from the state’s mismanagement of the program. You can watch more of their stories at http://esafamilies.com.

A Lifeline for Special Needs Kids in Arizona

Arizona’s ESA program has been a lifeline and a game-changer for thousands of kids who need educational support the most—special needs kids, children of military families, children on Native American reservations, and kids in failing and near-failing school districts. 

The program takes a portion of the funding that would have been spent on these children in public school and instead puts it in a private account for that child to support teaching tools, tutoring, tuition, and other education-related expenses. Today, nearly 7,000 families participate in this program, giving them a shot at a brighter future. But then the Arizona Department of Education began withholding funds from families, threatening to remove them from the program, and constantly changing its own rules. The Goldwater Institute sued the state to defend these parents’ rights in court.

Poor Administration is Hurting This Beneficial Program

While the ESA program benefits many Arizona kids, it’s threatened by mismanagement and arbitrary and confusing rules. Many of Arizona’s ESA parents have horror stories about dealing with the state Department of Education—having an educational expense approved one time and denied the next, or having to pull a child out of a class because the promised ESA funds weren’t provided in time.

Goldwater is Stepping in to Help ESA Families

The Goldwater Institute is proud to stand beside Arizona’s ESA families and fight for their ability to provide their kids with an education that matches their learning style, fits their pace, and gives them the best chance for success.

In January 2020, Goldwater filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Education challenging its mishandling of the ESA program. Not even a month later, the program’s mismanagement came into even starker focus when a massive breach of privacy by the state Department of Education resulted in the release of private personal information relating to all of the families who participate in the state’s ESA program.

Unfortunately, it’s just the latest evidence that this helpful program is being bungled by the state’s educational bureaucracy. Arizona’s ESA families deserve better. Learn more at http://esafamilies.com.

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