Arizona is expanding its school-voucher program. What does it mean for parents?

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ARIZONA EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT PROGRAMWhat comes next for Arizona’s school voucher program? | 1:12

Arizona is expanding its Empowerment Schoolarship Account school-voucher program. Here’s what we know about how it will work.
Wochit

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ARIZONA EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT PROGRAMThe Empowerment Scholarship Account program in Arizona | 1:39

Everything you need to know about the Empowerment Scholarship Account program in Arizona.
Wochit

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ARIZONA EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT PROGRAMPeople opposed to expansion of Arizon school voucher program protest | 1:20

People opposed to the expansion of the state school voucher program speak out as Arizona lawmakers discuss the expansion of the program known as ESA. David Wallace/ azcentral.com

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ARIZONA EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIP ACCOUNT PROGRAMAllhands: Vouchers won’t kill public education | 1:37

Don’t worry, columnist Joanna Allhands says, a bill to expand vouchers won’t be as popular (or as costly) as its critics claim.

  • What comes next for Arizona's school voucher program?
  • The Empowerment Scholarship Account program in Arizona
  • People opposed to expansion of Arizon school voucher program protest
  • Allhands: Vouchers won't kill public education

The Arizona Legislature has passed one of the most expansive school-voucher programs in the nation.

In April, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law Senate Bill 1431, which allows all 1.1 million public-school students to apply for the Empowerment Scholarship Account program. The program gives public funds to students to use on private-school tuition, therapies and other educational services. Republican lawmakers narrowly approved the plan, which allows an estimated 30,000 students to take part in the program by 2022.

Many Republicans hail the plan as a novel way to give students more access to the schools they want. But Democrats and some moderate Republicans say it will take millions of dollars away from public schools to subsidize private and religious education for some families that might already be able to afford it.

Since its passage, there have been unanswered questions about how the expansion will be implemented. The Arizona Republic sought to answer them, but in some instances, state officials said they can’t fully explain how the program will be implemented because it was advanced by the Legislature and signed into law so quickly.

Here’s what we know at this point.


What is the Empowerment Scholarship Account program?

The program allocates to qualifying families 90 percent of the state money that would otherwise have been given to the district school or charter school previously attended by the student. The money is put into an account, which parents or guardians can access using debit-like cards.

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Everything you need to know about the Empowerment Scholarship Account program in Arizona.
Wochit


How long have these been around?

The Legislature created the program in 2011 for disabled students. Since then, other categories of children were allowed to participate, including those in poor-performing schools, children from military families, those living on Native American reservations, foster children, and the brothers and sisters of students who have ESAs. About 3,360 students currently use the program.


What changed under the new law?

Lawmakers expanded eligibility. Eventually, all of Arizona’s 1.1 million public-school students will be able to apply. However, only an estimated 5,500 students will be eligible each year and no more than about 30,000 students will be allowed into the program by 2022.

READ MORE: Ducey signs expansion of school-voucher program


When does the expanded program go into effect and when can I apply?

Laws go into effect 90 days after the the legislative session ends, which likely will be in the next several weeks. If that’s the case, the ESA expansion will be the law sometime in August.

As soon as state education officials learn the effective date of the measure, parents will be able to apply.

“Parents should not delay in putting in their application,” said Michael Bradley, chief of staff for state schools Superintendent Diane Douglas, adding that the department is expecting a high level of interest in the program.

Children who qualified under the old program, including children from poor-performing schools, students with special needs, and those living on Native American reservations, don’t need to wait until August.


How do I apply under the old program?

You can apply on the Arizona Department of Education’s website, www.azed.gov.


How can I apply under the new law?

You can fill out an application with the Arizona Department of Education on the morning that the measure goes into effect.


Who can apply for the new program?

This year, students entering kindergarten, as well as first-graders, sixth-graders and ninth-graders can apply. With the exception of children who are entering kindergarten, students would have first had to attend public schools — traditional district schools or charter schools — for 100 days during the prior school year to meet eligibility requirements.

MORE: Why AZ doesn’t know where voucher money goes


If my child already has an ESA, does the new law affect me?

Yes. Families with ESAs, who are in good standing, will be able to renew their application for the program, and will keep the same level of funding unless they are deemed low-income. Families deemed low-income might see a boost in funding. Also, ESA families must abide by new expenditure reporting, and must ensure their children take certain standardized tests.


Are students already in private school eligible? 

No.