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Arizona – Empowerment Scholarship Accounts


Arizona – Empowerment Scholarship Accounts

Arizona was the first state to enact an education savings account program, the newest school choice mechanism. The passage and launch of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program in 2011 opened the door to new learning opportunities for students with special needs and circumstances. Learn more about how the program works on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, and more.

Program Fast Facts

  • America’s first education savings accounts program

  • 2,499 participating students (Fall 2015)

  • 22 percent of students eligible statewide

  • 134 participating schools (2014–15)

  • Average account value: ~$11,000 (2015–16 projected)

  • Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 154 percent

Program Details

Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Participation

Students Participating
School Year Ending

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

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 for defined, but multiple, uses, including private school tuition, education therapies, online education, private tutoring, or future educational expenses.

Student Funding

ESAs are funded at 90 percent of the charter school per-student base funding. For the 2014–15 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. In the 2014–15 school year, eligibility expanded beyond the pool of students with special needs, students assigned to public schools or school districts with a “D” or “F” letter grade, children of active-duty military members stationed in Arizona, and youth adopted from the state’s foster care system to include children of military members who were killed in the line of duty, siblings of current or previous ESA recipients, and students eligible to enroll in a program for preschool children with disabilities. 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.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: None
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
  • Geographic Limit: Statewide
  • Enrollment Cap: Yes (0.5 percent of last year’s total traditional public and public charter school students)
  • Account Cap: 90 percent charter funding
  • Testing Mandates: None
  • Limited to students with special needs, students in low-performing schools, children of active military members stationed in Arizona or those killed in the line of duty, students in foster care, siblings of current or previous ESA recipients, and students eligible to enroll in a program for preschool children with disabilities
  • Parent must sign an agreement to:
    • Provide an education in the subjects of reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science
    • Not enroll student in a school district or charter school
    • Release the school district from all obligations to educate the student
    • Not accept a scholarship under any of Arizona’s tax-credit scholarship programs
    • Use the money deposited in the ESA for purposes specified in the law

Governing Statutes

Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 15-2401 through 2404

Legal History

On March 21, 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals’ ruling upholding the state’s education savings accounts (ESA) program. The high court’s decision essentially deemed the ESAs constitutional. Niehaus v. Huppenthal, No. 1 CA-CV 12-0242.

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