Originally published in The Daily Independent on February 7, 2023.
Recently, the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, or ESA, has become part of the public policy discussion around the state’s budget and negotiations between the governor and the state legislature.
I wanted to provide a first-hand perspective on the ESA program and how it is helping families throughout Arizona, so that readers can understand how truly valuable it is in the real world.
For background, ESAs provide scholarship dollars to Arizona families so they can pursue different options for their children’s education, opening opportunities outside public and charter schools and placing a private school education in reach regardless of income level. The funding is equivalent to what the state would fund for students in any public or charter school as well. The application process is simple and straightforward.
I’m an educator and the executive director of the new Grand Canyon Private Academy. I also have a 15-year-old daughter who is enrolled in a private online school, with the help of the ESA program. For her, it has been an ideal fit. It has allowed her to flourish as a young person while getting a rigorous education in a way that she would not be able to at a public school or charter school.
So I see the benefits first-hand from my family’s perspective. But what I also see is families who would have never otherwise been able to access a private school education finding new educational experiences for their children that can be customized to their individual needs.
I see families in lower-income brackets or disadvantaged communities that now have access to educational tools that increase their child’s chances for a quality education. I see children who may have been bullied, or struggled socially, or fell behind due to the pandemic finding a pathway back to where their peers are in their educational progress.
I see parents of children with special needs finding new ways to maximize their child’s potential — ESAs provide additional resources for students with special needs so that families can find the right fit for their child’s specific challenges provide them the best chances for success.
These outcomes would not have been possible without the ESA program.
That’s why tens of thousands of Arizona families are now participating in the program. Already over 45,000 students throughout the state are accessing a private school education with support from the state of Arizona — the same type of financial investment they would receive if they were in a public or charter school. And all of Arizona’s more than 1 million K-12 students are eligible to find the right fit for their individual and family needs thanks to the ESA.
We should be celebrating this. Public policy debates tend to leave behind what’s happening in the real world. What I see on a day-to-day basis is a way for parents to provide the right educational pathway for their children, and that should be a priority for all of us. We all want our children to succeed and thrive in whatever ways work best for them.
I would invite parents to learn more about ESAs and their benefits by visiting arizonaempowermentscholarship.org. I am hopeful and confident that ESAs are here to stay, and they will continue to be a powerful tool for tens of thousands of Arizona families.
By Bouchra Bouanani, executive director of Grand Canyon Private Academy and parent.
To learn more about Grand Canyon Private Academy, visit https://gcpa.k12.com/