Should taxpayer money be used to pay for some children to attend Peoria indoor playground?

A West Valley gym received a lot of feedback on a recent post saying they would be accepting Empowerment Scholarship Account money.
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 10:32 PM MST
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PEORIA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A West Valley gym received a lot of feedback on a recent post saying they would be accepting Empowerment Scholarship Account money. Uptown Jungle Peoria said it received approval from the state back in November and has received positive feedback from families.

According to the state’s website, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or ESA, are “meant to expand educational opportunities for eligible students outside of the public school system.” It applies to those with special needs and some children with parents in the military. In addition, the state writes the money can be used for private school tuition, educational therapies, tutoring and more.

“It’s something that’s in its infancy here,” said George Colebrook, General Manager of Uptown Jungle Peoria. He explained the response thus far has been positive. “I’ve had a lot of testimonials from families. She’s grown in social skills; she’s grown in physical development,” he said.

Arizona’s Family contacted the Department of Education, which oversees the program. They said, “the funds may be used for physical education purposes. Uptown Jungle falls under that category.”

“I’m a teacher; my school has never had an art teacher, the entire six years that I’ve been there,” said Beth Lewis, the Executive Director of Save Our Schools Arizona. The group advocates for more funding for public schools. She says the program needs to set criteria.

A quick look through how ESA money has been used on the state’s website shows some questionable items that have been approved. The items include a pool table, camping equipment, and even the Dave Ramsey curriculum. Ramsey is a financial advisor.

“All sorts of really costly things that are technically not only used by the student but they’re justified as curriculum pieces,” Lewis said.

But as a former teacher, Colebrook has a different perspective. “Parents have the choice to use these funds in this way. I mean, we’re following within the guidelines,” he said. “For me, it’s just been the success of the kids, the growth of the kids. To me, it’s not a monetary thing, it’s an avenue to help kids develop,” he continued.

The concern for education advocates is that this program is set to expand on September 24 to all students, taking away money that would be going to our public schools. Some education advocates have started a petition to keep that from happening. For more information, visit