State: Arizona

Arizona State Guide

Choosing a school? You’ve got options.

If you live in Arizona, you have access to more K-12 education options than you might realize. Navigating these options can help you find a school where your child thrives, but it can also feel overwhelming. This guide will breakdown the main types of school choice in Arizona, as well as provide additional education resources.

Arizona families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.

Interested in learning more about Arizona’s ESA program? Check out our deep dive blog on the Empowerment Scholarship Account program and Arizona School Choice.

Arizona Traditional Public Schools

Most children in Arizona (68.3%) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Arizona spends an average of $9,611 per public school pupil each year. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.

Arizona has unrestricted open enrollment for public school. What this means is that you can send your child to any public school in Arizona, regardless of where you live or where the school is located, as long as the school has capacity. Each district’s open enrollment policies must be available in English and Spanish, and must include transportation provisions. These include transportation up to about 20 miles each way for students with a disability or IEP, and can include other students, too. For example, you can read about the open enrollment process in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Arizona has a law prohibiting public schools from charging tuition for transfer students, so this option is always free. You can take advantage of open enrollment by visiting multiple public schools near you and discovering which is the best fit for your family. Traditional public schools may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you.

For example, one traditional public school in Arizona we talked to, Coyote Springs Elementary School, has a unique focus on “authenticity in learning.” Pamela Clark, the school’s instructional specialist, shared one of the school’s cool practices for the beginning of the school year. It’s called “two for ten.” She said, “We want everyone on campus to spend ten minutes with a child for a couple of weeks just getting to know them, talking about things other than school, and every person on campus participates, including teachers, custodians, the cafeteria staff.”

Find out more about public schools and Arizona School Choice at the Arizona Department of Education and Office of the Governor. You can also learn more about Arizona open enrollment in this 50-state report.

 

Arizona Charter Schools

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. Arizona has more than 500 charter schools that parents can choose from. In fact, at least 84% of Arizona students have access to at least one charter in their area.

Each school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, Arizona Autism Charter School focuses on the educational needs of children with autism, while others may focus on language immersion or mathematics. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to determine admittance. 

For more information on charter schools in your state, check out the Arizona Charter Schools Association. Families in the metro-Phoenix area may also be interested in Raising Arizona Kids’ annual guide to all nearby charters.

We recently interviewed one of Arizona’s very first charter schools, Benjamin Franklin Charter School. When we asked the charter school’s Director of Education, Diana Dana, what makes her school unique, here’s what she shared: “Because we are not restricted by boundaries, we are able to welcome any family that is looking for something more than what their neighborhood school offers in a caring, wholesome environment. Many parents choose to be a part of something special with us because we provide an ‘A’ rated education and family-friendly amenities such as affordable before- and after- school childcare and free school supplies. We take pride in removing barriers to an excellent, tuition-free education.”

Arizona Magnet Schools

You can also choose magnet schools. These free public schools allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as health sciences or the performing arts. At a magnet school, all subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. These might be a good option if your kid learns best by focusing in on a subject he or she is passionate about!

There are many magnet school options in Arizona. For instance, the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona currently lists twelve magnet schools. These include schools that focus on communication arts, dual language, Montessori, and gifted study.  Meanwhile, in Goodyear, Centerra Mirage STEM Academy is a magnet school focusing on hands-on STEM learning and enrichment. And, Gallego Primary K-3 Fine Arts Magnet School in the Sunnyside Unified School District focuses on art and creativity.

Arizona Private Schools

You probably know that private schools are nonpublic schools that charge tuition. But did you know that, since 2018, the federal government has allowed parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts

There are more than 450 private schools across the state of Arizona. These private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs. Arizona’s Gateway Academy, for example, a private school located in Scottsdale, is providing an inspiring education for students with autism spectrum disorders.

The average tuition for private schools in Arizona is $9,619 for elementary schools and $13,766 for high schools. There are currently five state-run scholarship programs, which can help families afford private school tuition. One of these is the nation’s very first tax-credit scholarship program, enacted in 1997. All K-12 students interested in choosing private school are eligible to apply for aid. Arizona launched another individual income tax-credit scholarship program in 2012. Arizona also offers a tax-credit scholarship program focusing on scholarships for low-income children. Fourth, “Lexie’s Law” provides tax-credit scholarships for students with special needs.

Finally, Arizona has an Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program that was adapted in 2022 to expand eligibility to all Arizona students. Participating families can receive scholarships of about $7,000 or more for qualifying educational expenses, including private school tuition, online education, tutoring, transportation, and education therapy. As of 2024, 9.8% of Arizona students are participating in this popular program.

Learn more about Arizona School Choice at Choose A School Arizona, Love Your School, Phoenix Catholic Schools, Arizona School Choice Trust, Arizona Private Education Scholarship Fund, Inc., and Private School Review: Arizona.

 

Arizona Online Learning

Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter environment, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Arizona students can choose from many free, full-time online charter schools, including the state’s single largest online program, Primavera Online School.  Other options include Arizona Virtual Academy Arizona Connections AcademyAstravo Online AcademySequoia Choice Arizona Distance Learning, and ASU Prep Digital. High schoolers can also consider Khan World School, a creative partnership between ASU Prep Digital and Khan Academy. Students in high school can also consider Insight Academy of Arizona or Hope High School Online, both of which specialize in helping struggling students succeed. Students in grades K-8 can also consider Leman Virtual Academy or Great Hearts Online, both of which have classical learning focuses.

In order for funding to transfer to one of these schools, families switching to an online school may need to initiate withdrawal from their previous school. You can learn more about the online school community in your state at AZ Parents for Education.

Besides online charter schools, there are more than 100 districts in Arizona currently offering part-time or full-time online learning! These include the Mesa Distance Learning ProgramChandler Online AcademyScottsdale Online LearningDeer Valley’s Aspire Online AcademyParadise Valley Online, and Casa Grande Union High School District Online Academy. The State Board of Education makes a complete list of district online programs and the grades they serve available to families.

To read more about online learning in Arizona, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

Arizona Homeschooling

Homeschooling is another school option in all 50 states. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and allows for highly customizable education. 3.4% of all K-12 students are homeschooled. If you homeschool in Arizona, your student might still be eligible to participate in sports or classes at your local public school!

If you choose to homeschool, you are required to teach reading, grammar, math, social studies, and science, but specific standardized tests are not required. The state requires a one-time notice of your intent to homeschool within 30 days of beginning to homeschool in a county. It is also recommended that you formally withdraw from your previous school so that your student is not marked truant.

If you move to a new county during the school year, you must file a letter of termination, then submit a new notice of your intent to homeschool in the county you moved to. In the case that you want to switch back to public school, you must file a letter of termination.

Keep in mind that Arizona has a funding assistance program called the Empowerment Scholarship Account program that can help make homeschooling more affordable for families.

You can learn more about Arizona homeschooling at Arizona Families for Home Education or the Home School Legal Defense Association – Arizona.

 

Arizona Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning: 

Increasingly, Arizona families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning, close-knit relationships, and emphasizing children as individual learners. 

Here are just a few examples of the many microschools and nontraditional learning choices for families in Arizona:

Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account provides participating families with education funding that can be used flexibly for approved learning expenses, like private school tuition, home education, tutoring, and more. 

Prenda Microschools offers tuition-free learning pod options for families through a partnership with accredited online schools in Arizona. 

Great Hearts Online has piloted a microschool program where families can enroll in the classical online school but receive in-person learning support.

Public online schools like ASU Prep and Sequoia Choice have launched learning-pod-like models where students work on their online school curriculum in person together a few days a week.

KaiPod Learning offers learning pods for both homeschoolers and students enrolled in accredited virtual schools.

The Black Mothers Forum has launched at least five microschools in Arizona, specifically geared toward meeting the needs of minority communities and their families. 

Adamo education combines in-person instruction in small microschooling environments with digital learning. 

Primer is a microschooling network with schools in Scottsdale and South Tempe.

Kino School is an example of a small, innovative private school with mixed-age learning focused on student interests. While it’s been around since the 1970s, it shares some of the characteristics of microschools today.

iCubed Learning provides personalized learning pods for homeschoolers, online students, and those enrolled in hybrid programs, offering one-on-one teaching experiences with certified educators.

Trinity Arch Preparatory School for Boys offers a tailored learning pod environment focusing on a liberal arts education and character development in a Christian, boys-only setting.

Arizona State University offers a year-long fellowship that families can apply for if they’re interested in starting their own microschool.

Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school. 

Download the School Choice Snapshot for Arizona

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What is School Choice

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

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Choosing the Right School

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

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NSCAF gratefully acknowledges Mrs. Klein’s Pickle Co. for their donation in support of the 2024 school fair in Phoenix, Arizona

Search for Schools Near Me

School Type
Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.
Grade Levels

Microschooling and Mix-and-Match Learning

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

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7 Step Guide

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

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

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.

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 (note, while the law was originally interpreted to mean that ESA funds could be used for one semester’s tuition, and tax credits for the next, the handbook was updated in 2023 to clarify that families can only use one funding source in a given school year);
  • 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.
  • Parents should also be aware that the ESA program could be changed or limited by future legislative action. Parents should pay specific attention to news reports about efforts to limit or block the implementation of the program until 2024.
  • 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
Group of students at picnic table cheer in unison

Governor Doug Ducey issued a proclamation recognizing January 23-29, 2022 as Arizona School Choice Week.

 


There are a variety of school choice options available for many of the 1.7 million children living in Arizona. Families in Arizona can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.

You can discover more information about the school choice options available for your family by reading our Arizona School Choice Roadmap and by visiting the Arizona state page
As a nonprofit, charitable effort, School Choice Week works throughout the year to develop and provide free, practical, and unbiased school search resources for Arizona families.

During our annual awareness celebrations each January, schools and homeschool groups partner with community organizations to plan school fairs, parent information sessions, open houses and other awareness events to spotlight the diversity of education options available in the state. In January 2022, we will partner with 447 schools and organizations in Arizona to raise awareness of K-12 education options.

Arizona