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School Choice Bucket List

January 30, 2015

Max Ashton accomplished these things before graduating high school and with a degenerative eye condition known as Leber hereditary optic neuropathy that has left him blind. Now a freshman at Loyola Marymount University in California, Max was a part of the first team of blind swimmers to cross the San Francisco Bay last year—after becoming the youngest blind hiker to summit Kilimanjaro. Max also earned a $25,000 scholarship to attend Loyola.

National School Choice Week (January 25-31) celebrates students like Max and their accomplishments and, in Max’s case, his access to a high quality high school in Arizona using an education savings account. Through this program, Arizona deposited public funds in a private account that Max’s parents used to pay private school tuition and purchase braille materials for Max’s studies.

Families can use education savings accounts to pay for online classes, education therapy services such as speech therapy, textbooks, and even college expenses. The accounts allow students to have a unique learning experience that matches their needs.

“The best part about school choice is that it works,” says Max’s father, Marc. “I have seen it work for students from Spanish-speaking homes, students that couldn’t walk or talk, for deaf students and for low-income students. These students attend the best schools for their needs and are succeeding.”

Max is unique among a group of students who benefitted from flexible learning options because he used a private school scholarship before opting for an education savings account. In Arizona, individuals and businesses can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations. Max accessed a tax credit scholarship in 2011, which allowed him to attend a private high school.

Max and his family realized that an education savings account would allow Max to buy materials to assist him with his classes in addition to helping pay private school tuition. Thanks to the different choices available to Arizona parents, Max received an excellent education and is living his life as though it is a great adventure.

“Lisa [Max’s mom] and I know Max’s education is our responsibility, as parents. We wanted what was best for Max and being able to use tax credit scholarships and then [education savings] accounts gave us the best education Arizona,” Marc says.

This year, more than 1,300 Arizona students are using education savings accounts. A similar number of students are using the accounts in Florida, where lawmakers enacted the program in 2014. Teachers unions in these respective states sued to take the accounts away from families, but both programs have been upheld by state courts.

The significance of these court victories that give parents the chance to choose a successful school for their child is not lost on Marc.

“I always wondered why it’s ok to choose where we live, we choose where we work, we choose where we pray, we even choose who our elected representatives are, yet some of those same representatives don’t want us to choose where our child goes to school,” Marc says.

National School Choice Week is a celebration of student achievement. We should also use this week as a reminder that more parents should have the same options as Arizona and Florida families. A quality education should be available to every child and not limited to children living in certain neighborhoods. Some parents can send their child to a safe, academically rigorous public school—but not all students have this opportunity.

Let’s use National School Choice Week to spread the word that any child can climb a mountain and hike the Grand Canyon. Let’s give every child the chance.



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