January 25, 2021
By Marta MacBan
Arizona mom Marta MacBan knows the positive difference that school choice can make in a family’s life. As with many families, COVID-19 created a new educational reality for Marta’s family. Moving to virtual schooling at such a young and impressionable age could have had long-term consequences for Marta’s daughter. In many other states, Marta would have been out of luck—but thanks to Goldwater’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), she was able to put her daughter in the educational environment she needed.
This National School Choice Week, Marta shares her story at the Goldwater Institute’s In Defense of Liberty blog.
When my oldest daughter was approaching kindergarten age, I began researching various schools around town to figure out where we should enroll her to start her “formal” education. Because of the freedom of school choice that the state of Arizona offers, I knew that we were not limited to attending just one home-district school. After touring several schools, we chose a public elementary school that we felt was the best fit for our daughter and our family. Even though the school was outside of our district boundaries, open enrollment allowed my daughter to enroll and start kindergarten at that school in the fall of 2019. Our daughter had a great experience there and had an amazing teacher. I was also involved with the PTA and served as “room mom” for my daughter’s class. We really enjoyed the school and loved all of the teachers, staff, and families we met there.
In March 2020, the school closed in-person learning due to the pandemic, as did most schools around the country. Kindergarten was moved to Zoom. We knew right away that this was not a learning format that was going to work well for our daughter. Though she completed the school year online, we started exploring other options that spring. My husband had brought up homeschooling as an option when we first started researching schools, but I had been hesitant about the feasibility of it.
However, we revisited this idea, and I started talking to some moms I knew who had already been homeschooling for a few years. Through them, I learned of the breadth of options available within the homeschooling realm. A friend, Katie Meeks, lent me the curriculum she was using, and it worked great for our family. That summer, we decided to disenroll our daughter from public school and filed an affidavit with the state stating that we were going to homeschool her. In August 2020, my daughter began first grade as a homeschooler. Through Katie, we ended up becoming part of a co-op (or cottage school) consisting of a group of five moms and our children. We started meeting one day a week to do a group day of learning enrichment where our children could socialize as well as learn together.
After the quick formation of our small cottage school, Katie decided to kick off a formal cottage school campus and invited me to join the endeavor. I happily agreed—and we are now in the process of launching Highlands Latin Phoenix Valley in Fall 2021. This school will offer children a classical education via a partnership between parents and teachers. Students will spend one to two days a week in the classroom, and the remaining weekdays will be spent studying in their satellite classroom under the supervision of a parent.
Through another friend, Jenny Clark, and her organization Love Your School, I learned about the many different programs and classes available for homeschool families, as well as the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program, which takes a portion of funds that would have been spent on students’ public school education and instead deposits it in a private account, providing educational options to qualified students. It turned out that my younger daughter qualified for this program, and it has allowed her to attend preschool and receive speech therapy services. The program also allows us to participate in classes such as physical education and to purchase books and other educational materials.
Through Jenny, I also learned about the Arizona Tuition Tax Credit Scholarships, which Love Your School describes as “programs [that] give families with limited financial means the ability to enroll their children in the private school that works for their child and meets their unique needs.” This is a great program that many Arizona residents can take part in. Katie and I have actually partnered with one tax credit organization, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO), to possibly assist families who would like to enroll in or support Highlands Latin Phoenix Valley.
I feel fortunate to have been able to experience a few different educational options for my children. In becoming my daughter’s first grade teacher, I have learned a lot about her learning style and I know that we have made the right educational choice for her. And with ESA, we now have the opportunity to provide my younger daughter with the therapies and services she needs.
I know there are many systems and schools to choose from and am grateful for the opportunity to have a choice. Education is not one-size-fits-all and can even fluctuate for one student or family throughout each season or life stage, so having choices is such a benefit. I hope other families can be encouraged by school choice and find what works best for their children and family.
Marta MacBan is an Arizona mother of two.