How School Choice Is Increasing Opportunity for This Blind Teen Who Plays High School Football

COMMENTARY Education

How School Choice Is Increasing Opportunity for This Blind Teen Who Plays High School Football

Aug 16th, 2018 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Lindsey M. Burke, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Education Policy

Lindsey Burke researches and writes on federal and state education issues.
Access to an education savings account has made it possible for Adonis to live out his dream of playing football by attending a school that is a perfect fit for him. Thinkstock/Getty Images

Meet Adonis Watt, the high school freshman running back from Arizona who happens to be blind. That’s right; Adonis, who plays football fearlessly for Brophy College Prep is, to quote his mother, “101 percent” blind.

When they realize you’re blind, says Adonis, “they try to go easy on you, but then they end up on the floor.” Adonis clearly doesn’t allow any limitations associated with his visual impairment to stop him.

Nor do his parents.

“We’re like every other parent. We want to see him off that bench, and we want him in there, and he expects to start,” says his mother.

Adonis’ story is interesting not only because of his commitment to a sport that is nerve-wracking even for athletes who aren’t blind, but also because he is benefitting from the newest form of school choice: education savings accounts.

Arizona became the first state to establish innovative education savings accounts, doing so in 2011. With an education savings account, students can receive 90 percent of the state per-pupil dollars that were being spent on them in their district public school to pay for a host of education-related services, products, and providers.

Families can use their education savings accounts to pay for private school tuition for a school like Brophy. They can also use their accounts to pay for private tutors, online learning, special education services, therapies if needed, textbooks, and individual courses. They can even roll over unused funds from year-to-year. Families can also save unused funds for college expenses they anticipate down the road.

Brophy College Prep may be a familiar name to Daily Signal readers. We’ve covered the story of Max Ashton, who is also blind, and was able to attend Brophy thanks to access to an education savings account. As we’ve written, Max, who previously attended a public school in Arizona, was able to access 90 percent of what the state of Arizona spent on him in his district school, and receive those funds in an education savings account.

With his education savings account, Max was able to pay private school tuition, purchase all of his braille textbooks, assistive technology such as a talking computer, and other materials that he needed to succeed as a student who is blind. Incredibly, the Ashtons still had money unspent every year and were able to save those unused funds for college. Max was able to attend Loyola Marymount University in California and pay his college tuition using his leftover Arizona K-12 education savings account funds.

It’s an incredible story and a testament to the innovative and smart ways parents shepherd education funds when given the chance.

“[Education savings accounts] gave us that ability to provide for him; for us as parents to provide for him,” says Marc Ashton, Max’s father. Marc Ashton explains what his family was able to do with 90 percent of the existing dollars already being spent on his son in the public system:

A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 a year to educate that student. We took our 90 percent of that [and] paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona … plus all of his braille, all of his technology, and then there was still money left over … to put toward his college. … We were able to save money, even sending him to the best school in Arizona.

Like Adonis, Max has also had his own athletic moment in the spotlight.

“Football has been my passion since before I went blind,” says Adonis, who went blind at the age of 6 due to a rare congenital glaucoma issue. “Being blind is not my personality. You should still be able to do whatever you want,” he says.

Being at a school like Brophy, where his coaches foster his love of football and, as his coaches say, do “everything they can as coaches to support him” as running back, has made that possible.

And access to an education savings account has made it possible for Adonis to live out his dream of playing football by attending a school that is a perfect fit for him.

Max’s father reports that Max, who has just graduated from college, will return to his former high school to teach AP history this fall, serving as a braille resource teacher for Adonis and another student who is blind. If all of that weren’t enough, Adonis and 11 other blind students will be crewing three sailboats around the Spanish Virgin Islands in November. Oh, the places education choice will take students.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal