A Case for Education Savings Accounts: Jonathan Lopez’s Story
When Jonathan Lopez was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at 18 months old, his parents knew their lives were going to change forever. The fourth of six children, Jonathan immediately began homeschooling with his mother as soon as he was old enough. But Jonathan’s father Raul lost his job when Jonathan was in third grade, and his parents could no longer afford to homeschool. His mother Julie had to go back to work, while he and his siblings were enrolled in public school.
While public schooling may be a good fit for some children, for Jonathan it was not. His family made it a point to treat him exactly how they treated their other children despite his special needs. At school, however, his circumstances were different. He was bullied by the other kids who didn’t understand Asperger’s Syndrome, and his parents realized that the teachers were ineffective at teaching a child with special needs. But they had no other choice at the time. After seeing their son struggle in school, the Lopez family decided to bring him back to homeschooling after just one year.
Jonathan thrived when he returned to homeschooling because he had more devoted attention, and his mother—who was once a schoolteacher—knew exactly how to teach a child with his needs. Jonathan graduated and went on to attend Volunteer State Community College. Jonathan’s parents were able to make a choice and decide what the right path was for his education, but many parents in Tennessee do not have the resources to make that choice.
With the implementation of the Individualized Education Account (IEA) Program for children with special needs, parents like Raul and Julie Lopez now have more opportunities in education, but we cannot stop there. All children in Tennessee should have the opportunity to pursue an educational path that best meets his or her unique needs. That is possible through education savings accounts, or ESAs. By expanding choice for all families, parents will have the opportunity to make the best choice for their children’s education, not be forced into a choice that is arbitrarily made for them based on their ZIP code.