Phoenix—Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are helping more than 3,000 Arizona students excel in an academic setting that meet their needs. Children like Jordan Visser whose Cerebral Palsy made being in a traditional classroom setting difficult; like Elias Hines who wasn’t being challenged in his neighborhood school; and Aiden & Erin Yellowhair who are using an account to leave a gang-infested, failing public school for a college prep school on the Navajo Reservation. Today Arizona lawmakers passed a law that will make this program available to all Arizona school children over time.
“Arizona lawmakers made history today,” said Victor Riches, President & COO of the Goldwater Institute. “Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts give families unprecedented options and flexibility for selecting learning environments that fit the unique needs of their children. Because Arizona courts have already determined this program is legal, it will be the first program of its kind to be available to all children in a state.”
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are like flexible spending accounts for healthcare, except that instead of depositing money into the account from a paycheck, the state government deposits a child’s share of school funding into the account. If a parent or student decides the public school they are assigned to is not meeting their needs, they can leave their school and instead receive money from the state through an account to pay for alternative education options and expenses. These accounts allow parents to spend the funds on private school tuition, to pay for classes at another public school outside their district, tutoring, online learning, textbooks, educational therapies, and other education-related services and products. Parents can use a combination of these services based on what they think would best meet their child’s learning needs, but only for educational services approved by the state. Unused funds can often be rolled over from year to year.
Arizona’s program is currently available to students with special needs, students in failing schools, low income students, students adopted from state foster care, students on Native American reservations, and students with active duty military parents. Today’s bills, SB 1431 & HB 2394, phase in an expansion to all Arizona school children over time. Next year, children entering kindergarten, along with all 1st graders, 6th graders, and 9th graders are eligible for an account. In 2018-19, the law adds 2nd graders, 7th graders, and 10th graders. The following year, all students in grades 1-3 and 6-11 are eligible. Students in the remaining grade levels will be eligible in the 2020-21 school year. New enrollment in the program will be capped at approximately 5,000 students each school year.
“A great education is a ticket to the American Dream. Every child deserves the chance at an education that will prepare them for a good job, a bright future, and a happy life. But for many children, the odds of attending a good school depend entirely on where they live. Education Savings Accounts change that. They allow parents to put their children in a learning environment that gives them a shot at a better, more successful life,” said Jonathan Butcher, education policy director at the Goldwater Institute.
In 2011, Arizona was the first state in the country to adopt this unique program. Since then, similar programs have been implemented in Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The concept was first developed by the Goldwater Institute in 2005 and was revisited in 2009 after the State Supreme Court ruled K-12 school vouchers unconstitutional. Empowerment scholarship accounts are different from school vouchers. School vouchers only fund private school tuition; empowerment scholarship accounts can be used for a wide variety of education expenses.
“Arizona lawmakers pioneered this innovative program; so it’s fitting that today they extended this opportunity to all Arizona students,” said Riches.
Governor Doug Ducey is expected to sign the bill into law.