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