The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Advancing Milton and Rose D. Friedman's Vision of School Choice for All Children

Arizona - Empowerment Scholarship Accounts

Enacted 2011 • Launched 2011 • Education Savings Account

Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program allows parents to withdraw their children from public, district, or charter schools and receive a portion of their public funding deposited into an account with defined, but multiple, uses, including private school tuition, online education, private tutoring, or future educational expenses. In the 2013-14 school year, eligibility expanded beyond the original pool of students with special needs to students assigned to public schools or school districts with a “D” or “F” letter grade, children of active-duty military members, and youth adopted from the state’s foster care system.

Latest Stats (2013-14)

  • Students participating: 731
  • Schools participating: 75
  • Average account value: $14,500 (projected)

Program Details

Student Funding
ESAs are funded at 90 percent of the charter school per-student base funding. For the 2013-14 school year, that amounts to about $5,300 for students who do not have special needs.

Student Eligibility
Students must have previously either (1) attended public school for at least 100 days of the prior fiscal year, (2) received a special education tax-credit scholarship from a School Tuition Organization (STO), (3) participated in the ESA program, or (4) received money from an STO under Lexie’s Law. However, students eligible to attend kindergarten and students living on Native American reservations do not need to meet those requirements if they otherwise qualify for the ESA program. New accounts are capped at 0.5 percent of the previous year’s total number of public and charter school students; that cap is removed in 2019.

Legal Developments
September 26, 2011, the Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, and Arizona Association of School Business Officials sued in state court to block the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA). In Niehaus v. Huppenthal (CV2011-017911), the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County, found this program to be constitutional; however, the plaintiffs appealed to Arizona’s intermediate appellate court. On October 1, 2013, the Court of Appeals of Arizona affirmed a district court decision and ruled the ESA program does not violate the state’s constitution. In its ruling, the Court emphasized that ESA funds are directed “solely upon how parents choose to educate their children.” The challengers have filed an appeal of the appellate court ruling with the Arizona Supreme Court. Niehaus v. Huppenthal, No. 1 CA-CV 12-0242.

Rules & Regulations
• Income Limit: None
• Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
• Geographic Limit: Statewide
• Enrollment Cap: 0.5 percent of total traditional public and public charter school students
• Account Cap: 90 percent of charter school per-student base funding amount
• Testing Mandates: None

Governing Statutes
Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 15-2401-04

Friedman Contact
Leslie Hiner |

Related Research

10/30/2014 The School Starter Checklist: Meeting the Private Education Regulations in States with School Choice
5/30/2014 Public Rules on Private Schools: Measuring the Regulatory Impact of State Statutes and School Choice Programs
10/10/2013 Schooling Satisfaction: Arizona Parents' Opinions on Using Education Savings Accounts
8/28/2013 The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts
9/27/2012 The Way of the Future: Education Savings Accounts for Every American Family

Related News

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10/15/2013 National Review | The Education Debit Card
10/10/2013 Arizona parents more satisfied with ESA than public school
10/1/2013 Education Week | Ariz. Scholarship Program Ruled Constitutional
9/20/2013 Savannah Morning News | Commentary: A new way to fund education
8/28/2013 Study reveals how Arizona parents use education savings accounts
8/15/2013 Sharing your story in “The ABCs” can be as easy as one, two, three
1/23/2013 “The ABCs of School Choice,” 2013 Edition, Now Available
10/15/2012 Education News | Are Arizona’s Ed Savings Accounts a Model for Voucher Programs?
10/12/2012 | Can Education Savings Accounts Level The Playing Field For All American Students?
10/11/2012 Heartlander | New Report Labels Education Accounts ‘Way of the Future’
8/27/2012 President's Comments: School Choice Still Rising with More States Coming on Board
5/15/2012 Arizona Governor Signs Groundbreaking School Choice Plan
9/30/2011 2011’s New School Choice Programs
9/29/2011 Lawsuit Would Restrict Arizona Families' Educational Options

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