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Students Benefit from ESA Program

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Families of children with special needs know all too well the stresses of meeting the daily needs of their children. From medical and social needs to physical and emotional needs, the responsibilities can be overwhelming at times. For families who have received one of the state’s coveted Special Needs Education Scholarship Accounts, the weight of affording an adequate education has been lifted.

A Special Needs ESA enables parents to direct their state education tax dollars to the educational setting and services of their choice. The ESA can be used for tuition, therapy, textbooks, tutoring, transportation, and other qualified expenses. Currently, hundreds of families sit on a wait list hoping for their number to be chosen in a lottery so they too can receive an ESA.

Parents who have children who were selected for an ESA are thrilled with the results of being able to place their children in the best educational setting possible.

That’s been the case for Monique and Scott Pietrowski of Biloxi. Their son Logan, 16, was diagnosed with autism in 2010. Monique and Scott recognized that Logan, enrolled in two different highly-rated school districts on the coast, was not performing at his full potential.

The family discovered the state’s ESA program and applied. Logan was awarded an ESA in 2015 which allowed him to enroll in a smaller private school on the coast where he has blossomed according to his mother.

Laura Herman of Ellisville agrees. Her son Adrian received an ESA in August 2018 and it has enabled him to receive much-needed vision therapy.

“My husband and I were paying $1,140 every three months for therapy for Adrian,” said Laura. “It was something we had to do because he had to have it, but we are thankful that we do not have to try and find that money now.”

Adrian, 8, who is autistic, has also been diagnosed with ADHD, a developmental delay, cognitive processing issues, and a vision impairment. He is enrolled in a small private school in Jones County where he is doing well, his mother said.

“He has grown exponentially since being in this new environment,” said Laura. “He received individualized time and is now reading on a second grade level. It’s amazing what he has accomplished in the right environment.

Laura said, thanks to the ESA, her family has not had to pay out of pocket for the special glasses he needs about twice a year.

“We just replaced them at $338/pair,” she said, “but we were very proud that he did not have to have special ordered lenses because we have seen so much improvement over the last few months.”

Students See Success

Sue Jones’ son Calvin received an ESA in December, and he has already begun to benefit from extra tutoring and online enrichment programs. Calvin’s ESA covers the cost for extra tutoring for his dyslexia and other language problems, the online program, and enrollment at the local Christian private school where he is experiencing educational success

“The ESA gave us a choice for Calvin’s education,” said Sue of Lucedale. “He is now in a school with only 10 kids in his class, and it’s made a huge difference.”

Sue said the ESA has helped them develop and implement a plan that fits Calvin’s very specific educational needs.

“He is doing great with it,” said Sue. “He is making As and Bs.”

The benefit of the ESA is that families like the Joneses are able to customize their child’s education to fit their needs.

“Smaller classrooms and getting a tutor have been what has helped Logan the most,” said Monique. “He came home earlier this week with a form for me to fill out so he can become a member of the honor society. I just had to laugh because that’s not something we ever anticipated.”

When the Pietrowskis moved Logan to a private school after he received an ESA, they immediately noticed a difference in his classroom performance.

“The bar for Logan was raised because of smaller classrooms and a tutor which allowed him to actually learn,” said Monique.

Logan has begun to see success in the form of academic awards and special recognitions.

“He won the history award for his class and also was named the Most Christian for the junior high,” Monique said proudly. “We are so happy that he is finally seeing that he can do it. Logan received a perfect 100 in Mississippi history.”

The Pietrowskis attribute Logan’s successes to finding an educational environment where he can thrive.

Families Are Thankful for the ESA Program

“We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the ESA,” said Monique.

That’s a recurring theme from ESA families who reported a 91 percent satisfaction rate with the program.

“It’s been a blessing to know that we don’t have to try and come up with that money,” said Laura. “I don’t know what we would do without the ESA. This is a child who has fought valiantly through his young life, and he should not have to fight for his education from the state. I don’t want to think about what we would do without the ESA.”

Sue agreed.

“It’s been a blessing to my family because there’s no way we could afford $225/hour for tutoring for Calvin,” she said. “It means we are able to give Calvin a personalized education that fits him perfectly.”

“It’s been completely life-changing for us,” said Monique. “Logan is a different child. The potential was there, but we had to find the right place for him to be successful.”

Scott said, “I was terrified of the prospect for Logan’s future,” he said. “The ESA has enabled him to be a productive member of society. Logan went from making Ds and Fs to now being on the A/B honor roll competing with regular kids. We couldn’t be prouder.”

“I want all of our children in Mississippi to have this opportunity,” said Laura.