Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA)

Our Connection

Journey With Me LLC director Tonya Reiner is an outspoken advocate for individuals with disabilities. Tonya believes students need access to educational options that ensure their social, emotional and academic success — something the public school system in Arizona failed to provide her own children.

In 2011 the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) implemented an exciting new program for students with special needs and Tonya’s children were among the first students to be awarded Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). Her sons, who have complex medical and educational needs, still participate in the ESA program and are thriving as a result.

When the ESA program faced opposition from Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association and Arizona Association of Business Officials (Niehaus v. Huppenthal, 2011) Tonya was among the parent-intervenors-appelles in the litigation team’s (Institute for Justice and Goldwater Institute) successful defense of the program. In written documents presented to the Arizona court, Tonya shared how the ESA program had enriched her children’s lives.

Ruled constitutional in 2013 the ESA program continues to expand. In 2011, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) offered the ESA program to students with special needs. Today, ESAs are available to all students in Arizona through the 2022 universal expansion making Arizona the first school choice state in the nation.

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