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Stories of Special Needs Kids Bolster Dougco, Arizona Choice Programs

It was just last week I introduced you to a new video produced by my friends in the Education Policy Center that highlighted one family’s story to show why the Douglas County vouchers are needed to help save students. (Wouldn’t you like to see more of these brief video profiles that tell the real stories behind Colorado’s groundbreaking local school choice program?)

Then today — what do you know? — the Goldwater Institute releases an article right along the same vein. You see, just like Douglas County became the first local school district to enact a private school choice program, Arizona this year was the first state in the nation to create “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.” Designed to serve students with special needs, these ESAs are almost like super-vouchers.

From the Goldwater report:

Samantha Boesl has high hopes for her 10-year-old son, Blake.

He’s always been smart, a visual learner with what his mother describes as a photographic memory.

But he’s also been challenged. Blake is autistic, and is easily distracted and influenced by the behaviors of those around him. He’s also had to contend with a host of medical problems, from debilitating food allergies to a skull fracture received when he fell out of a window at age five.

Because of his autism, Blake is sometimes unable to communicate his pain, Boesl says. That hurt and frustration can manifest itself in inappropriate, even self-destructive, behavior.

When Blake entered kindergarten at the local public school in the Boesl’s Ahwatukee Foothills neighborhood, he tested as academically ahead of his peers. By the time he finished fourth grade earlier this year, he had fallen behind.

Arizona’s new ESA law will enable families like the Boesl’s not only to help cover private school tuition but also academically beneficial therapies, online course options and educational materials. The annual contribution to eligible families is worth 90 percent of what the students would have received as a special education student at a local public school. Any money left over from year to year is not lost but accrues for future educational uses, including to help pay for college tuition.

Blake Boesl, meet Nate Oakley. Kids like these are among the many reasons why we ought to continue supporting Douglas County’s choice scholarship program and Arizona’s empowerment savings accounts, and look for ways to improve and expand programs like them that provide maximum choice to families.

Now if that doesn’t help your day look up, I don’t know what will!