Reimagining Education

ESAs can help special needs students in Missouri

Parenting is hard.

Parenting a child with special needs can be really hard.

Parents of special needs children throughout the country are finding help through state-administered programs called Education Savings Accounts which provide parents with funds to pay tuition at private schools, purchase books, pay for tutoring and even pay for therapeutic services.

When Faith Kleffel* was born with Downs Syndrome, doctors told her mother, Julie, that she would be lucky to learn to sit up on her own.  After frustrating experiences with an overcrowded and overwhelmed public special education pre-school, Julie discovered Florida’s Personal Learning Savings Account which the family was able to use to pay for a private tutor, speech and occupational therapy, special shoe inserts, and educational curriculum. Because of the one-on-one therapy provided through the program, today Faith can walk three miles, speak in full sentences and interact with groups.

Elias Hines*, an autistic student in Arizona, was trapped in a non-integrated classroom in a public school, where his anxiety levels soared and his grades declined. His parents have used Arizona’s ESA program to try a variety of better education solutions, from private schools to home tutoring. Today his parents use the ESA funds to send Elias to AZ Aspire Academy and say he is experiencing “more academic and behavioral progress than we have seen in his entire life.”

Lanna Beard*, diagnosed with severe ADD, visual perception disorder, and fetal alcohol syndrome,  had trouble keeping up in a classroom of thirty students who each needed individualized instruction. Thanks to Mississippi’s ESA program her adoptive mother, Martha, was able to afford to enroll Lanna into a private school recommended by their pediatrician. “She is a totally different child,” said Beard. “Lanna is more relaxed and she’s not intimidated to say she needs help. She will ask and answer questions. She participates in classroom activities and now enjoys going to school.”

The parents of Faith, Elias and Lanna, because they live in states with EASs, have found a path forward for their children which gives them hope.

If they lived in Missouri, these stories might have a different ending, because unlike parents living in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, or Tennessee, parents in Missouri do not have access to the life-changing opportunities provided by an Education Savings Account.

Thankfully, some lawmakers in the state are working to change that with legislation that will give parents of special needs children the resources they need to to find the educational options that will work for their child’s individual needs.

Last year a bill which would have created an ESA almost passed the legislature, and a similar bill is expected to be introduced for this year’s session.

A Missouri ESA would give parents a wide variety of options for how to best meet their children’s needs.

While many ESA families across the country use the funds provided for private schools, 28 percent choose to use ESAs for multiple learning services.

And parents who use ESAs are overwhelmingly satisfied with the program.

A recent EdChoice.org report on parent satisfaction in Arizona, showed that  100 percent of parents participating the program were satisfied to some degree and 71 percent of parents were very satisfied.

To find out more about ESA legislation in Missouri visit http://p2a.co/wxMje9C or text CEAM to 52886.

*These stories of families helped by ESAs came from the new book Education Savings Accounts: The New Frontier in School Choice.

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