“I don’t want my child to be lost.”

Nov 6, 2017

“I don’t want my child to be lost.”

That was the message waiting for the CEAM Team on one of our phones this week from a parent who was at their wit’s end trying to figure out how to get their child into a safe and effective learning environment.

According to the parent, the child had an Individual Education Program (IEP) but was being trapped in a special education classroom filled with a mix of third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students, a situation which made them worried about both the child’s safety and the quality of education being offered.

“They are just passing her along,” said the parent, begging for advice on how to help their child escape the traditional district school. “I don’t know what else to do.  I am willing to take her anywhere. I am willing to do whatever just so my daughter can get a good education.”

Sadly, calls like this one are all too frequent in the CEAM office. We hear from parents concerned about safety, education quality, or special needs services on a weekly basis.

We hear from parents who have realized that the one-size-fits-all approach to public education is no longer working for their children, from parents who know what their child needs to succeed but needs help finding an education system that will work for their family.

We also hear reports from around the country of states that are figuring out better ways to give families the power to choose the educational path that fits their child.

In Florida, for example, a special program called the Gardiner Scholarship helps families with special needs children pay for tuition at partner schools, approved therapists, specialists, curriculum, technology or even a college savings account.

Ben Zanca, a Florida student suffering from cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy and asthma had a hard time succeeding in a traditional school setting. (Read Ben’s full story here)

“It’s not that they didn’t care, but he wasn’t going anywhere; he was going backward,” said Ben’s father, Tony Zanca. “Teachers have their hands tied with all the new testing and all they did was quizzing for the test. There was no hands-on learning, which is what Ben thrives on.”

Thanks to the Gardiner Scholarship, Ben’s family was able to afford a school that both challenged and supported Ben, giving him a chance to succeed.

“The scholarship was huge, like the answer to our prayers,” Ann Zanca said. “His self-confidence has increased tremendously. It’s a lot of hands-on learning. He made a car out of a Coke bottle and started telling me about Newton’s Laws of Motion. His self-confidence has increased tremendously.”

Missouri families do not have a Gardiner Scholarship, but state leaders are working on legislation that would create something similar — an Education Savings Account (ESA) which would help families with special needs children, children in foster care, and military families pay for a variety of education expenses ranging from tuition at privates schools to textbooks, tutoring, and therapy.

If the law passes, then hopefully we can answer the phone with a real solution that will make a difference in the lives of thousands of students throughout the state.

To find out more about ESAs, share your story of how school choice could help your family, or learn how you can help to make ESAs or other school choice reforms a reality in Missouri please sign up for our newsletter or join our parent network today.