Despite a tight turnaround time for applications, Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) law has proven highly popular among Arizona families and, in its first year, will provide more than 100 families with the opportunity to send their children to the schools of their choice. In fact, 167 families and their children with special needs were awarded an ESA by the Arizona Department of Education for the Fall 2011 school semester.
The American Federation for Children, a leading school choice advocacy organization, praised the innovative new program–the only of its kind in the nation. Sponsored by State Senator Rick Murphy and House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko as SB 1553 and signed by Governor Jan Brewer in the last legislative session, ESAs allow parents of children with special needs to receive an account that the parents can use to choose the best educational services and environment for their children.
The Arizona School Boards Association sent a letter asking Attorney General Horne to nullify the law. A deadline for the Attorney General to respond to their letter has passed. That means that the law will stand barring a lawsuit.
“The law was only able to go into effect on July 20th,” said House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko. “One hundred and sixty-seven families signed up and were approved for ESAs by the August 1st deadline for the start of this school semester. That was a very short window. That indicates the demand for ESAs from families whose children have special needs.”
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are accounts established to provide an education for qualified students that must include reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies and science. In order to qualify students must be an Arizona resident and identified as having a disability and either attended a public school for the first one hundred days of the previous school year or received a School Tuition Organization scholarship. Accounts are awarded an amount determined by calculating 90 percent of each student’s funding level as determined by the school funding formula.
Along with the Individual and Corporate School Tuition Organization Tax Credit programs and the state’s Lexie’s Law program, Arizona is one of only two states nationally that is home to four private school choice programs. The four programs serve more than 32,000 students nationwide.
The American Federation for Children, along with the Alliance for School Choice, seek to improve our nation’s K-12 education by advancing systemic and sustainable public policy that empowers parents, particularly those in low income families, to choose the education they determine is best for their children.