The Arizona Court of Appeals recently upheld an innovative school choice program—a program that one of IJ’s student-clients credits with putting his life back on course.
Seventeen-year-old Austin Fox was barely scraping by in public school. His Asperger Syndrome makes it difficult for him to filter ambient noise, especially in large, bustling classrooms. His public school teachers were not willing to help him cope with the sensory overload he routinely experienced. It got so bad that he decided to drop out of school and give up on his dream of being a nurse.
But before Austin could shipwreck his life, Arizona lit up a beacon of hope. The state created a new educational choice program, known as the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, and empowered Austin to chart his own educational course. Arizona’s ESA program deposits 90 percent of the funds that Austin’s public school would have received into a separate account—similar to the now-familiar concept of a health savings account—and authorizes Austin to spend those funds on an a la carte menu of educational options. He can use the money to hire tutors, pay tuition at private school, purchase curriculum for at-home studies, take online courses and even save the money for future college expenses.
Austin and his mom, Crystal, visited several schools together and discussed educational options. Austin settled on Bios Christian Academy. The tuition is low enough that he is able to save a lot of the money deposited in his ESA for college, and the school’s focus on skills mastery allows him to learn at his own, often quickened, pace. Although Austin does not profess a belief in God, he is thriving at Bios: He has a 4.0 GPA and recently scored in the 90th percentile on parts of his college admissions exams. He will graduate from high school next year and plans to enroll in Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions.
Although Crystal can now breathe a sigh of relief for Austin, her severely autistic 12-year-old daughter Tia is also counting on the ESA program to keep her at a school that meets her significant educational needs. The state teachers’ union has appealed the case to the Arizona Supreme Court in their continuing efforts to take the wind out of the education reform movement’s sails. But you can count on IJ’s merry band of litigators to continue the fight to secure the educational futures of all the children participating in the ESA program.
Tim Keller is the executive director of the IJ Arizona chapter.