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ACE scholarships flow to Mission Academy


Private education recently became a bit more accessible at one Las Cruces school through a partnership with a national organization’s partial tuition scholarship program.

Early this year, Mission Academy, a private micro school in Las Cruces, became a new partner school with the ACE Scholarships program. The school currently serves 75 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

ACE, or Alliance for Choice in Education, is a nonprofit organization that supports the expansion of school choice. The organization also provides scholarships for children from lower income families to attend private schools in several states across the country, including New Mexico.

According to numbers for the 2023-24 school year provided by Kirsten Eastwood, vice president of scholarships at ACE, the organization partners with 1,047 schools across 12 states – 34 schools are in New Mexico.

Mission Academy joins Three Crosses Christian School and Las Cruces Catholic School as program partners in Las Cruces.

Eastwood explained that schools interested in the program send in an application and the program administrators review “schools holistically” from enrollment history to location to determine a good fit.

“Adding Mission Academy as an ACE partner school not only allows us to reach even more students in the Las Cruces area, but it also gives our ACE families expanded school choice,” Eastwood said.

According to their website, the standard ACE awards are $3,000 for K-8th grade and $4,000 for high school grades. However, the scholarship should be no greater than 50 percent of private school tuition, though this can vary by circumstance.

The program has family income caps that administrators look at to determine whether a student qualifies for a scholarship. For example, a two-person household has a maximum qualifying yearly income of $71,540 while a four-person household has a cap of $109,200 yearly income.

The program’s website includes a chart for families to easily determine whether their child qualifies.

Mission Academy’s annual tuition is $9,500 for students K-12 along with an annual registration fee of $375, which means a student awarded the scholarship will likely receive the full amount to cover half of the tuition expenses.

In comparison – according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Las Cruces Public Schools served over 23,600 students during the 2020-2021 school year and spent $12,277 per student. These expenditures were paid for largely through state funding, as well as federal and local revenue.

The second half of Mission Academy’s tuition must be paid out-of-pocket. The school offers need-based financial aid and several different payment plans to assist families.

ACE scholarships will then follow the awarded student through the rest of their private education career until they graduate high school – as long as the student completes the application on time each year and remains enrolled in one of the program’s partner schools.

Liane Conaway, program director for Mission Academy, noted that school administrators recognize their tuition is high. However, the hope is that the new scholarship partnership will financially assist current students as well as open an avenue for potential students who otherwise would not be able to afford tuition.

“This isn't any type of elite school, so to speak. I mean, we really do want to welcome any who are interested in this type of learning, since it's not a traditional school. So yeah, I think that it would be a great opportunity to bring in other families from different demographics,” Conaway said.

Scholarship applications open annually on the first Monday in February. Students attending or interested in attending Mission Academy can apply for the scholarship beginning this year. The application window for the 2024-25 school year closes at 11:59 p.m. April 15.

“For the 2023-2024 school year, we provided 20 students an ACE Scholarship (at) our partner schools in Las Cruces,” Eastwood said.

She added that it is “yet to be seen” how many Mission Academy students will qualify for a scholarship.

Mission Academy originated in 2016 as Acton Academy Mesilla Valley, founded by Anna Emerick-Biad. Conaway, who has worked for the school for five years, said the idea originated through looking for new creative and “innovative ways to educate our children.”

The school followed the Acton Academy model – a learning model launched in Austin, Texas with schools open across the country. Emerick-Biad left the Acton model about two years ago, forming Mission Academy.

Conaway explained that the Acton Model places a lot of focus on online learning, which can be limiting for this particular school’s population of students. Now, Mission Academy continues to incorporate guided online learning paired with hands-on education, entrepreneurial projects and outdoor learning.

“We are a micro school, so we're not designed to get big or anything like that. But we definitely want to give that individualized learning to each student that we possibly can and be able to meet those needs,” Conaway said.

She added that the school graduated their first student from high school last year and will have three graduates this year.

“I feel like we are a very magical school in the sense that we love to bring learning to life. So, the kids aren't going to just learn from a platform or a textbook,” Conaway said. “We're going to have real world experiences as to why it's important to learn what we're learning.”

Private Education, ACE Scholarships, Mission Academy