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Kasey Locke is a bright, beautiful six-year-old girl. But she faces challenges most kids never will. At age three, Kasey was diagnosed with autism.
￼When she started kindergarten at her Phoenix, Ariz., public school, Kasey’s parents worked with school officials to incorporate a new learning method that worked well for her. When the school didn’t apply these methods, her parents continued to tutor her after school.
Then Arizona created a revolutionary new school choice option called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Now, a portion of Kasey’s state education funding is deposited into a private account. Her parents can use that money to pay for school tuition, online classes, tutoring, books, and other expenses. Any leftover money can even be saved for college.
Finally, Kasey’s parents can tailor her education to her specific needs. Arizona taxpayers also benefit because the accounts cost less than it would to send her to traditional public schools.
"It was almost too good to be true,” according to her father, Jeff. Kasey now attends a private school that has changed her educational life. Her communication skills have improved and she’s much less frustrated. “She likes to go to school. She’s a lot happier in the morning. On the car ride [to school] she is more excited,” her dad says.
Kasey visited her speech therapist a few months after switching schools. Her therapist was amazed with her progress, saying she “was a lot calmer and followed directions better.”
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts were initially available to special needs kids only. But after their broad success, Arizona expanded the program to include military families, kids at failing schools, and adoptive and foster children.
The state’s education unions are trying to shut down the program through legal action. In the past, other programs were shot down because they were viewed as the government giving money directly to private schools (some of them religious). Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are different since the parents are the ones making the choice.
Last year an Arizona trial court ruled Empowerment Scholarship Accounts constitutional and now the state Court of Appeals is hearing the case. Although it could go all the way to the state’s highest court, school choice activists are very optimistic. And if it succeeds in Arizona, they expect it to quickly spread across the nation.
Hopefully for Kasey and other students, school choice innovation and better education options will prevail over the failed status quo.
Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.