Dr. Jan Vesely: More on ESAs

This year marks my 40th year in public education.

Dr. Jan Vesely, superintendent of Kyrene schools

This year marks my 40th year in public education. In those 40 years, I have seen a growing movement to undermine the very basic principles that form the foundation of the work that all of us—school board members, administrators, teachers, parents and community members—do to educate our next generation of leaders. It seems harder and harder each year to protect the sanctity of our public schools.

For I believe, as our Founding Fathers did, in public education. In 1785, John Adams wrote, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

And as our country welcomed more immigrants, public education became a means to creating productive citizens, ending poverty and crime and unifying an increasingly diverse population. Those societal goals are as relevant, if not more so today as they were then.

Our public schools were established to make education universally available to all children, free of charge.

We educate the vast majority of U.S. students and are accessible in all parts of the country, including areas where few or no alternatives exist.

Which brings me to expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. While we do not know, at this point, what the true impact the ESA expansion will have on Kyrene, it is of great concern to me. When I became Superintendent nearly a year ago, one of the top priorities was to develop a response to the challenge of declining enrollment, a challenge that most districts in Arizona face.

I have worked with the Governing Board to identify strategies that will help us manage that challenge—expansion of our early learning options, extending our Kyrene Traditional Academy to PreK-8, establishing an International Baccalaureate program at KMS. And I am confident that these initiatives will bring and retain more students in Kyrene moving forward.

But at our last board meeting, our demographer delivered the news that the anticipated recovery in enrollment, first projected for 2019-20, would not be realized for at least another 5-6 years. Combined with the expansion of ESAs, our challenge is now multiplied.