Sweet: Both sides of school choice debate lose sight of what’s best for children, families

The political fight over school choice — Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts seem to never end.

O. Robin Sweet

The latest battle continues over a small group of Navajo children, who needed the Education Savings Accounts to attend a school in New Mexico just over the Arizona state line.

The unfortunate component in all of this dispute is no one is considering what is in the best interest of the children.

Ideological groups on both sides keep making the Navajo students and ESAs a political battle, which isn’t the intent of why ESAs were implemented.

Do I feel ESAs should be used for programs in Arizona? Yes.

But there are always extenuating circumstances like the location of the Navajo Nation compared to the closest private school, which happens to be one-half mile over the Arizona border. There are no private schools any closer than the New Mexico school to their location.

I am no fan of politics. We simply need to come to the realization that we must do what is in the best interest of the children to allow them to attend specialized schools, so that they can become contributing members of society.

Those are what Empowerment Scholarship Accounts were established to do for students at Gateway Academy, and what they are doing.

Our nationally recognized accredited school offers smaller class sizes, specialized curriculums, and unique programming for students with Asperger’s Syndrome and High Functioning Autism.

Many of our students were bullied or got lost in the mix of larger class sizes in public and even traditional private schools. We offer smaller class sizes with a student-to-teacher ratio of 6-to-1 in lower school, 8-to-1 in middle school, and 10-to-1 in high school.

Many students who thrive at Gateway Academy can only afford to attend our innovative private school, because of ESAs.

Our families come from every race and socio-economic group. Annual tuition at Gateway is $26,800, and ESAs pay for 100% of our tuition, allowing every income family to attend.

We are not about the politics of school choice at Gateway Academy. We are about helping our “Twice Exceptional” students find a school where they can thrive.

We all need to remember the original intent of Arizona’s ESA program was designed to help cover the education costs for children with disabilities, foster kids, as well as Native American, and active-duty military families.

Helping those families and children should not be controversial nor political.

Editor’s Note: O. Robin Sweet is a Scottsdale resident and CEO and executive director at Gateway Academy.

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