Empowerment Scholarship Accounts
- Education Savings Account (ESA)
- Enacted 2011
- Launched 2011
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, online education, education therapies, private tutoring or future educational expenses. Learn more about how the program works on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations and more.
We do not administer this program.
America’s First Education Savings Account Program
Participating Students (Fall 2020)
of Students Eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (2014–15)
Median ESA Award (2018–19)
Maximum Account Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-Student Spending (For Non-Low-Income Students)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-Student Spending (Average Including Students with Special Needs)
Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Participation
Students in households that earn up to 250 percent of poverty ($65,500 for a family of four in 2020–21) will receive ESAs funded at 100 percent of the base for whichever school type the student previously attended (charter or district). For all other students, ESAs are funded at 90 percent of the same per-student base funding ($5,394 for students in K–8 and $5,669 for high school students in 2020–21). ESAs were worth about $6,148 for students in grades 1–12 who do not have special needs in 2018–19. Students with special needs receive additional funding, and those amounts vary depending on the services the student’s disability requires. Because a majority of ESA students have special needs, the average ESA in 2020–21 is projected to be more than $14,000.
Students must have previously attended public school for at least 100 days of the prior fiscal year and met one of the following characteristics: (1) received a scholarship from a school tuition organization (STO) under Lexie’s Law, (2) attended a “D” or “F” letter-grade school or school district, (3) been adopted from the state’s foster care system, (4) is already an ESA recipient or (5) live on a Native American reservation. Students eligible to attend kindergarten are also eligible provided they meet one of the above criteria. Additionally, children of active-duty military members stationed in Arizona, children whose parents were killed in the line of duty, children of parents who are legally blind, deaf or hard of hearing, and siblings of current or previous ESA recipients are also eligible. Children of active-duty military members or whose parents were killed in the line of duty are not required to attend a public school prior to applying for an ESA. Finally, preschool children with special needs are also eligible and are not required to have attended a public preschool program prior to applying.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Arizona’s ESA program helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Several categories of students are eligible to receive an ESA, including students with special needs, foster kids, students assigned to low-performing district schools, Native Americans on reservations, the children of active-duty military personnel, and more. About 23 percent of Arizona students are eligible to receive an ESA, and all Arizona students are eligible to receive a scholarship via the individual-donor scholarship program. Statewide, recipients participating in one of Arizona’s private educational choice options (including the universal-eligibility Original Individual-Donor Tax-Credit Scholarship Program, the Low-Income Corporate-Donor Tax-Credit Scholarship Program, “Switcher” Tax-Credit Scholarship Program and Lexie’s Law for Disabled and Displaced Students Tax-Credit Scholarship Program) represent about 7 percent of the state’s enrollment. This is the highest EdChoice share in the nation.
ESAs are funded at 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding (or 100% for low-income students). Many ESA students receives about $6,150 annually, but students with special needs get significantly more. Funding amounts vary based on the types of special needs.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Arizona policymakers should expand eligibility for the ESA program to all students and eliminate the “100-day prior public” requirement that arbitrarily inhibits families’ access to educational choice.
Arizona’s ESA program generally avoids unnecessary and counterproductive regulations.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: None
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: Yes
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: No
- Account Cap: 100 percent or 90 percent charter or district funding (means-tested)
- 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, children of parents who are legally blind, deaf or hard of hearing, students in foster care, siblings of current or previous ESA recipients, students eligible to enroll in a program for preschool children with disabilities and children living on a Native American reservation
- Parent must sign an agreement to:
- Provide an education in the subjects of reading and grammar, mathematics, social studies and science
- Not enroll the student in a school district or charter school
- Release the school district from all obligations to educate the student
- Not accept a scholarship under Arizona’s general tax-credit scholarship programs
- Use the money deposited in the ESA for purposes specified in the law and spend accumulated ESA dollars on basic education subjects
On March 21, 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals’ ruling upholding the state’s education savings accounts (ESA). The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled ESAs are neutral toward religion. Although a prior 2009 decision by the Arizona Supreme Court in Cain v. Horne 202 P.3d 1178 (Ariz. 2009) (en banc) found vouchers to be unconstitutional in Arizona, the appellate court distinguished ESAs, said they did not violate the state constitution because funding can be used for a variety of educational resources in addition to private school tuition. Niehaus v. Huppenthal, 310 P.3d 983 (Ariz. App. 2013)
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts State Groups
That Support School Choice
Love Your School is a great resource for Arizona families looking for the best schooling options for their children. They also share the latest happenings in AZ education, families’ personal stories and more.
Empowered Arizona Families exists to give a public voice to families that utilize the Empowerment Scholarship Account program in Arizona. This organization is operated by ESA families, for ESA families.
Arizona’s Association of School Tuition Organizations (ASTOA) is the only membership organization that works solely on behalf of and provides a unified voice for Arizona’s school tuition organizations (STOs).
The Arizona Department of Revenue has approved this list of school tuition organizations to receive donations through the state’s tax-credit scholarship programs. These organizations provide private school scholarships to eligible students.