New law offers custom education to special needs children - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

New law offers custom education to special needs children

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Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 4:30 pm, Thu Apr 5, 2012.

For parents who have struggled to find accurate help for their kids in public schools a new program is making it easier to get the best education possible.

The new law, which took effect July 20, creates Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for children in Arizona with a disability. Ninety percent of the money the state would have spent on the child in a public school is placed into an account that the child's parent or guardian controls.

The funds can be used for therapists, private schools or specialized education but it must be used to provide education in reading, math, social studies and science.

For Ahwatukee Foothills resident Samantha Boesl, it's all she needs to give her son Blake the chance he needs.

Blake has a severe food allergy and was diagnosed with severe autism when he was 2 years old.

His autism makes it difficult for him to concentrate or communicate pain and in a public school he is struggling.

"He is smart. Give him the right tools," Boesl said in an interview with the Goldwater Institute. "The schools, they are cookie cutting for every kid and Blake isn't getting the right custom fit that he needs at this age bracket. The cookie-cutter thing is not going to work for Blake. You can't tell me he's not going to contribute to society. He will. But if I don't put the right tools now in place for him, then he won't be able to contribute."

Boesl has taken an active role in her son's education by hiring a variety of therapists and enrolling him in specialized tutoring.

She even opened up her own preschool in Washington with therapists and a curriculum designed around students with special needs, but the family decided to move to Arizona after Blake unlatched a second story window one day and fell out.

He broke his skull in the fall and afterwards continued to try and recreate the incident. The family chose a single-story home in Ahwatukee.

Boesl found out about ESAs when she asked a private school if there were any scholarships or programs available.

She was directed to Liz Dreckman, president and executive director of the Arizona School Choice Trust, which is a school tuition organization helping parents sign up for the program.

"It's a research process," said Boesl, who has been spending a lot of time interviewing different therapists and visiting specialized schools in the Valley. "School doesn't start until the eighth so viewing different schools is where I'm at. There are certainly options that I like."

Arizona is the only state to give parents so much control. Other states with similar programs use public money to pay the private school tuition. The new law does not require parents to spend the money on tuition.

The Arizona School Board Association sent a letter to Attorney General Tom Horne in June asking him to block the new law.

The association claims the law is unconstitutional because the extra attention is not being made available to every student. The Goldwater Institute has said if the case goes to trial they will defend the ESAs.

To qualify for the program the student must be an Arizona resident with a disability under federal or state law and must have attended a public school full time or have received a scholarship from a school tuition group last year. The amount awarded varies depending on the severity of the disability.

The deadline to apply for an ESA for this school year was July 27.

"I could say that it's a huge benefit for the future for our children," Boesl said. "To be able to advocate for what their needs are and be able to monitor the money to where it could be beneficial to the child in the future, this is a huge opportunity. They will need extra education and support rather than just in the classroom. This is a great opportunity for many parents that qualify."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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