A Parent’s Guide to Navigating Arizona’s Expanded Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) Program

By: Andrew Campanella

Last Upated: September 30, 2022

Scholarships are now available for any Arizona student who attends a private school or is educated at home, or whose parents want to switch that student to private schooling or home education. The state’s expanded Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program provides between $6,000 to $6,500 to participating students. Parents can use these funds to pay for private school tuition or to purchase home education courses, tutoring, materials, and supplies.

This guide provides program details to help families navigate the program, as well as recommendations on ensuring that interested families follow the state’s enrollment process while minimizing disruption to their children’s education. Learn more on the state’s website at: https://www.azed.gov/esa/.

Eligibility:

Every K-12 student in Arizona is eligible to participate in the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, regardless of family income, where the student lives within the state, or the student’s past academic performance. Students are eligible for ESA funding even if they already attend private schools or are homeschooled.

Empowerment Scholarship Amounts:

Each participating student in first through twelfth grade will receive an annual scholarship of $6,000 to $6,500. Participating kindergarten students will receive an annual $4,000 scholarship.  Participating students with disabilities and who have an existing IEP, MET, or 504 plan are eligible to receive additional funding.

Application:

Parents can apply for participation in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program by establishing an ADEConnect account at https://esa.azed.gov/Account. After applications are processed, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) will send participating parents an ESA contract. Approximately three weeks after parents sign the contract, funds will be deposited in the student’s ESA account. These accounts are managed by ClassWallet, an external vendor to ADE. Contracts will not be available, and ESA accounts will not be funded, until after September 24, 2022.

Contract:

The Empowerment Scholarship Account contract requires parents to agree to:

  • Spend a portion of the ESA funds each year to ensure their child is educated in reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science;
  • Agree to withdrawal, or not to enroll, their child in a public district school, public charter school, or online public school without paying the public school;
  • Not accept any other private school tuition assistance from a state program, such as a scholarship from a School Tuition Organization (STO) or tax credit scholarship;
  • Provide receipts for any ESA funds spent using an ESA-related debit card;
  • Not commit fraud or misspend funds.

Parents of students who currently attend public-sector schools, or who are homeschooled, must take additional steps prior to, or at the time of, signing the contract, as noted below.

Use of Funds:

Parents are required to manage Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account funds using ClassWallet. Funds will be deposited into the accounts, in equal amounts, every three months. For example, the initial deposit for a student with a $6,000 annual scholarship will be $1,500, followed by three additional $1,500 payments over the course of the year. ClassWallet allows parents to pay approved vendors directly from the platform, receive and use a prepaid debit card, and receive reimbursements for approved expenses that parents make with their own funds. Permissible uses of ESA funds include paying for private school tuition or buying state-approved educational courses, materials, tutoring, and supplies designed to supplement home education.

Other Participation Steps:

In addition to applying for the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program and signing the ESA contract, the steps parents must take to enroll their children in the program vary based on their child’s existing school:

  • Students who have not previously enrolled in school can participate in the program by applying, signing the contract, and creating an account.
  • Students who already attend private schools can participate in the program by applying, signing the contract, and creating an account. Once their ESA contract is executed and their ESA is funded by ADE, they cannot accept any other state-sponsored scholarship funding, such as a tax credit scholarship.
  • Students who attend traditional public, public charter, and online public schools can switch to the ESA program by applying, signing the contract, and creating an account. However, parents must officially unenroll ESA-participating students from their public-sector schools at the time their ESA is funded by ADE; parents should not proactively unenroll their children from their existing schools until they sign the ESA contract and/or ADE deposits scholarship funds.
  • Students who are homeschooled, and whose parents have filed a homeschool affidavit with their county superintendent of schools, can switch to the ESA program and continue educating their children at home by applying, signing the contract, and creating an account. However, they must terminate their homeschool affidavit when they sign the ESA contract and/or ADE deposits scholarship funds. Students who receive ESA funds and are educated at home are considered, for the ADE’s purposes, to be ESA-enrolled students, not homeschoolers.

Considerations for Parents:

We offer the following recommendations for families interested in pursuing the program:

  • Parents who want to use the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program to switch from public to private education should plan for how they will spend ESA funds before signing the ESA contract. Parents should evaluate whether seats will be available at their preferred private schools, whether the ESA will cover the full cost of tuition, how transportation will be handled, and whether their child will meet the private school’s enrollment or eligibility guidelines.
  • Parents of students who receive private school scholarships through the state’s existing tax credit scholarship programs should contact the School Tuition Organizations (STOs) that administer their children’s scholarships before signing an ESA contract. Some students from low-income families may qualify for STO-administered scholarships that exceed the ESA funding limits.
  • Parents who sign ESA contracts and accept scholarship funding from ADE will encounter complications if, within the same school year, they decide to switch back to public schooling for their children. In these situations, parents will likely be required to use ESA funds to pay tuition to the public school if seats are available.
  • For parents who need additional help determining if the ESA program is the right fit for their child, or who need help navigating the application, several organizations in Arizona are providing direct and cost-free assistance to parents. These organizations include Families EmpoweredLove Your School, and Choose A School Arizona

Classical Conversations, Goodyear, AZ

 

More questions about education options in Arizona? Explore our roadmap to school choice in Arizona across traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling. 

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