Hearing a mother with a child who has special needs rail against the Empowerment Scholarship Account program (hypocritically, the very program she uses to take $40,000 in education funding every year for her child) can not go unanswered by the thousands of us Mama Bears who also use ESAs and also have children with special needs. When someone is deliberately misleading the public by not giving all the facts, such as her son being enrolled in a private pay school choice option, it tells the story that she is either being obtuse or she has an agenda.
In Pamela Lang’s personal rant, she writes as though she is representing the feelings of all ESA families of children with special needs. She is absolutely not our mouthpiece, representative, spokesperson, or even an ally when it comes to advocating for our children. On that note, we will not claim that the three of us ESA mothers can speak for the struggles and fights of every ESA parent. But there is one thing we can say without a doubt that applies to every ESA parent – we have more choices than we had before.
This same anti-ESA mother wrote that she receives $40,000 a year of ESA money. She also says she can’t find a school to enroll her son, so he is stuck at home not learning. The beauty of ESA is that she can take that $40k and hire a full-time private teacher. Or she has enough funding to hire a handful of part-time teachers, tutors and therapists. We know this is achievable because we’ve done this very customizing for our own kids. One of our sons receives $30,000 a year and gets a fully customized curriculum that includes in-home tutors, private school classes, and therapies. That is the entire point of the ESA program – parents have the control over their child’s education because they direct their state education funding. We keep what is working and the day something doesn’t work we change it. If anyone’s child is sitting on a couch not being educated, as Pamela states, it is because that parent (Pamela) chose that as an option. With ESA there are so many options. Absolutely no one should be complaining because they choose for their child to sit on their couch.
She blasts private schools for not enrolling her son. Her child’s award is a lot of funding to miss out on. If a school is refusing that kind of funding, at least they are being honest when it comes to their capabilities. Those schools could just do what many public schools do and take the funds but not meet her child’s needs (we know because that is the very reason many of us ended up in ESA). We would seek honesty versus being misled, any day.
Perhaps Pamela being unwelcome at private schools in the Valley has less to do with her son and more to do with her close ties to groups seeking to eliminate school choice and her loud disdain for all options outside of public schools.
There is little doubt the mandates that have been imposed on public schools have improved special education, but it hasn’t ended the discrimination. It is also completely on the backs of individual children and their parents to enforce FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education) when violations occur. Some of us are using the ESA program today because we could not afford the lawyers to fight for our children’s rights to FAPE. Ironic, isn’t it? With the ESA program we are not required to automatically pay a provider that refuses to educate our children. We simply walk away and find a provider who does value our children and their right to an education.
If Pamela Lang wants to be an advocate against the ESA program and for the status quo, it really doesn’t make sense why she chooses to stay in the ESA program. It sounds to us like she is expecting every private school to be a fit for her son, and honestly no single school will ever be a fit for every child.
The happy ending here is that through the ESA program, she doesn’t have to use public or private schools. She has plenty of funding to pay for any other option out there.
— Christine Emanuel, April Adams and Kathy Visser are mothers whose children are in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program.