Arizona mom Kayla Svedin wanted to give her kids the best education possible. But for her special needs children, the traditional public school education simply wasn’t enough to give her the educational experience she needed. Kayla knew her kids (and many other children across the state) needed options, and she began speaking out on behalf of Arizona families to give them more choice and more control over their kids’ education.

At this year’s Goldwater Institute Virtual Annual Dinner, we were proud to honor Kayla with our Freedom Award, commemorating her tireless work in fighting to give all Arizona families the ability to choose the educational path that sets their children up for success. 

Kayla and her daughter needed an educational lifeline—and they found it in Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs)—a program that takes a portion of the funding that would have been spent on a student to educate them in public school and instead puts it in a private account for that child to support tutoring, tuition, teaching tools, and other education-related expenses. Thanks to her family’s ESA, Kayla was able to place her daughter in a school that gave her individual attention so she could learn. 

It hasn’t been for Kayla to give her kids the education they deserve, explained Goldwater Institute Executive Vice President Christina Sandefur at the Virtual Annual Dinner. “Kayla’s had to face anti-school-choice bullies who accused her of not properly supporting her public school, condescending academic ‘experts’ who told her that choice in education is a racist notion, and state bureaucrats who needlessly buried her children’s educational lifeline under mounds of paperwork and red tape.” Even in the face of this uphill battle, though, Kayla has become a strong and outspoken advocate for school choice: She’s started a school choice nonprofit—Empowered Arizona Families—with other ESA parents, she’s advocated for ESAs at the Arizona State Capitol, and she’s talked with voters, parents, and media about the importance of giving families more of a say in their children’s education. She’s working to ensure the ESA program works well for as many families as possible in Arizona, and that’s helping to expand the program nationwide.

Today, nearly 7,000 families participate in Arizona’s ESA program, giving them a shot at a brighter future. But Kayla believes that all families in Arizona should have access to the school choice options her family has received. “Every child has a unique set of needs, a unique set of strengths, and being able to individualize and customize their education in a way that maximizes their potential to succeed is important,” she says. 

Parents like Kayla are the best advocates for their children’s educational needs—and we’re proud to recognize and commend her efforts to give more parents a bigger voice in how their children are educated. “If we want to have a just and equitable world, we have to make sure that these opportunities are accessible,” Kayla said upon accepting the Freedom Award. “And I will continue to fight for those options and for those families.”

You can learn more about Kayla in the video above. 

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