Arizona offers the most premiere school choice programs in the United States. These programs seek to deliver high quality educational options to students who need them most.
Arizona’s School Choice Programs
Empowerment Scholarship Account
The Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program, which began in the 2011-2012 school year, is the new frontier in school choice. Eligible students now include children with special needs, children in failing public schools, children currently in or adopted from foster care, children of military personnel and children living on Tribal lands.
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The ESA is a state-funded program administered by the Arizona Department of Education. The average ESA amount is $5,000. Students with special needs receive additional funding based on the student’s IEP eligibility category. Parents receive the ESA funds on a pre-paid debit card and can use the money to pay for private school tuition, uniforms, books, home school curriculum, tutoring and many other educational services.
For more detailed information on the program, visit the ESA Parent Handbook provided by the Arizona Department of Education.
Individual Scholarship Tax Credit
Enacted in 1997 and the nation’s longest running scholarship tax credit program, the Individual Scholarship Tax Credit Program provides all Arizona taxpayers the opportunity to contribute directly to a School Tuition Organization (STO) and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against their Arizona state tax liability.
The STO uses these tax credit funds to provide scholarships to both children attending and children wishing to attend private schools.
For TY 2017, a married couple filing jointly can contribute a maximum of $2,177 under this tax credit. Deadline to participate for TY 2017 is April 15, 2018.
STOs in Arizona are certified by and report annually to the Arizona Department of Revenue.
Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program for Low-Income Students
C-Corporations, S-Corporations and insurance companies with an Arizona corporate income tax liability or insurance premium tax liability can redirect up to 100% of that liability to a state approved School Tuition Organization and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for their contribution. The statewide cap on corporate tax credits for FY 2017 is $74.4 million. This cap increases by 20% each year.
This tax credit program is required by law to benefit K-12 students from low-income families.
Corporate Scholarship Tax Credit Program for Children with Special Needs and Foster Children (Lexie’s Law)
In 2009 the Arizona legislature passed “Lexie’s Law” (the Disabled/Displaced Tuition Tax Credit Program). Lexie’s Law allows corporations to redirect their Arizona state tax liability to help fund scholarships specifically for children in Preschool – 12th grade with special needs, children in foster care or adopted from foster care. Lexie’s Law, named after an Arizona special-needs student, is capped at $5 million annually.
Public School Choice Programs
There are more than 560 charter schools in Arizona serving more than 170,000 students. Charter schools are public schools that receive government funding but are free to offer innovative curriculum, special incentives for teachers, and targeted education to children. Charter schools are often created by local nonprofits, colleges and universities, state or local charter school boards, and local school boards.
Learn more about the performance of public schools in Arizona.