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Empowerment Scholarship Accounts help meet students’ unique needs

December 19, 2017

By Victor Riches
December 19, 2017

Which is a better option: letting kids suffer in schools that can’t help them, or enacting policies that give those kids a chance?

That’s the question the Goldwater Institute addressed in 2011 when we saw that special-needs students in Arizona were stuck in traditional classrooms that couldn’t provide the education they deserved. So we developed a solution that would give families with special-needs students an opportunity for success. Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program was born, creating savings accounts for eligible students to help pay for tuition, tutoring, or other teaching tools. The success of this program is undeniable.

For Arizona parent Holland Hines, ESAs are an educational lifeline. When she sent her son, Elias, to a traditional public school, it was clear the school was not equipped to help him, and she was called several times a week to pick up her upset son. But when she heard about Arizona’s ESA program, she believed she’d found the answer. She signed Elias up, and today he’s an excited student in a school with teachers trained to understand his gifts and challenges.

Today, more than 4,000 Arizona students and their families are tailoring education programs to their needs thanks to ESAs. The Goldwater Institute is going to do whatever it takes under the law to help these, and other students and families. What’s more, stakeholder organizations of all stripes, be they the Goldwater Institute or the ACLU, have every right to work to ensure government agencies are following the law and are held accountable.

To that end, the Goldwater Institute has worked with the Arizona Department of Education to make sure parents understand how the program works and how ESA money can be spent. This type of communication is not unique or out of line. Government departments frequently communicate with stakeholders to collect a wide range of policy advice that ultimately informs their approach to crafting legislation.  Likewise, stakeholders have an obligation to make sure laws are implemented as intended once passed.

We are proud to help give students and parents the tools to take control of their own education. We want the best for them, and we will never stop advocating for them.

This commitment to giving people more control over their own lives extends to all of the work Goldwater does. Whether it’s granting parents and students more input on education, enabling people to pursue careers free from unnecessary red tape, or giving terminally ill patients the right to try to save their own lives, giving people a greater say in the way they live their lives is something we will never shy away from.

Many states have adopted Goldwater Institute ideas because they recognize that these policies improve people’s lives. That’s what we’re most proud of: being an incubator of policies that make people’s lives better. We don’t just write about problems. We don’t just debate ideas. We work to create solutions, and then we fight to make sure they’re enacted. We intend to keep up that good work, to help people like Holland and Elias in Arizona and across the country.

Victor Riches is the president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.



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