Three children, given up for dead at birth. Two girls and a boy, all of Native American descent. Even if they survived, one would suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome and the physical and mental challenges that this condition causes for the rest of her life, while the two others would struggle with cerebral palsy.
Then came Tim and his wife Lynn.
Tim and Lynn adopted Alecia, Uriah, and Valerie, and are determined to give them the best future they can provide. Alecia, now 14, was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. Uriah and Valerie, both 10, have mild cerebral palsy.
Uriah and Valerie’s cerebral palsy was too mild to qualify them for additional services at their public school, so they were placed in traditional classrooms with no extra help. Uriah and Valerie were also aware that they didn’t look like the other boys and girls in their class, and children picked on them because they were different, Lynn says.
“Their self-esteem was low, and I could see that if things didn’t change, they would turn to drugs and alcohol in a minute if I left them in a public school. They weren’t learning anything,” Lynn says.
Then Tim and Lynn heard about Arizona’s education savings accounts. With a savings account, the Arizona Department of Education deposits 90 percent of a child’s portion of the school funding formula in a personal bank account that parents can use for a variety of education services, including therapy, public school extracurricular activities, and curriculum materials. Parents can also pay private school tuition, purchase online classes, or even save funds from year to year and deposit leftover money in a college savings plan.
Special needs children and children in public schools that earned a score of “D” or below on the state ranking system, along with children adopted from the foster care system and children in active duty military families, are eligible for the accounts. As a result, more than 230,000 children in grades K-12 — approximately one in five students — are eligible to apply in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Education says 761 children are using the accounts this year.
Tim and Lynn’s children are among them. The family is using their savings accounts to help cover the cost of home schooling and special educational therapy. Alecia is eligible for an education savings account because of her special needs, while Uriah and Valerie are eligible because Lynn and her husband adopted them from the state foster care system.
Lynn has already started to see results in the lives of her children.
Alecia has learned to say her name, just in the first few months of learning at home. Lynn uses her savings account to buy music therapy, and Alecia has learned to speak by singing different words. “Anybody that sees my child now is amazed,” Lynn says. “She is soaring, and she already has skills now that she didn’t have last year.”
For Uriah and Valerie, Lynn says, “We’re stepping up academically for these kids. It’s going to be uphill for them, but they are already more excited about learning because other kids aren’t making fun of them.”
— Jonathan Butcher, education analyst, Goldwater Institute.