Arizona School Choice
Arizona School Choice was created to help parents in Arizona navigate the many educational opportunities available to their children as they progress through grade school and beyond. It can be daunting to pick a school that best fits your child's needs. As long as you recognize and take advantage of the key role you play in deciding your children's educational future, you will find the process empowering and rewarding.
Guide to School Choice Options
Public School District - Open Enrollment
Arizona state law allows students to apply for admission to any public school, based on available classroom space (A.R.S. § 15-816.01). The law requires that school districts develop policies regarding open enrollment that may include transportation and that the policies shall be posted on the district's website and available to the public upon request. Transportation is available for special education students.
A school district may give enrollment preference to, and reserve capacity for, pupils who are children of persons who are employed by or at a school in the school district.
Arizona Online Instruction
Arizona is a national leader in providing online learning opportunities for its students. Arizona Online Instruction was instituted to meet the needs of pupils in the information age. The Arizona State Board of Education and the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools are authorized to select or sponsor schools to be online course providers or schools (A.R.S. § 15-808). The types of opportunities and platforms vary from computer assisted learning platforms to virtual classrooms and more. There are currently more than 40 approved online schools and programs available throughout our state. These schools and programs vary in their approach to online learning and the courses they offer.
If you are interested in finding out more about online learning the International Association for K-12 Online Learning is a good resource.
Charter schools are tuition free public schools that were established to provide additional choices to families for learning environments that would improve student achievement (A.R.S. § 15-181). Most public charter schools are operated independent of local school districts by either non-profit or for-profit entities, although school districts may also sponsor charter schools. Since 1995, the number of charter schools in Arizona has grown to over 500 and charter school student enrollment has grown well over 150,000 students, accounting for 14% of the student population in Arizona in FY 2014.
The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools is the primary authorizer of most charter schools in the state and has Parent Resources available. The Arizona Charter Schools Association is the membership and professional organization for Arizona charter schools and provides support for its members but is also a good source of data and information.
Homeschooling has existed in its present form since the mid 1980's and is defined as "a school conducted primarily by the parent, guardian or other person who has custody of the child for instruction provided in the child's home" A.R.S. 15 § 802 (F).
Arizona law allows for a child being instructed at home who resides within the attendance area of a public school to be allowed to participate in interscholastic activities A.R.S. 15 § 802.01. Homeschooled students are welcomed at Arizona's institutes of higher education and are eligible for merit-based scholarships.
If a parent decides to homeschool, the first step is to file an Affidavit of Intent to Home School along with a birth certificate with the County School Superintendent. Support for homeschooling can be found through the statewide organization Arizona Families for Home Education. The Home School Legal Defense Association also provides national information.
Private School Tax Credits
If you would like to send your child to a private school, scholarship assistance may be available to you through one of the many school tuition organizations (STOs) in Arizona. STOs use individual and corporate contributions to provide scholarships to families in Arizona to use for private school tuition for grades K-12. Many of these scholarships are based on financial need, and each scholarship organization has a separate application process. Scholarships are also available for preschool children attending a preschool for handicapped children from contributions made for individual tax credits. Individuals and corporations in Arizona can take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to STOs.
The Arizona Department of Revenue (DOR) is required to certify STOs on the basis of statutory requirements and maintain a public registry of currently certified STOs.
STOs certified to receive corporate tax credit donations are listed here. These scholarships are limited to students with financial need.
STOs certified to receive individual tax credit donations are listed here. These scholarships have broader eligibility requirements.
Special scholarships are available from some STOs for disabled or displaced (foster) students. A qualified disabled/displaced student is a student who has been either:
- Placed in foster care in Arizona pursuant to A.R.S. Chapter 8, Title 5 at any time before the student graduates from high school or obtains a general equivalency diploma.
- Identified as having a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or identified by a school district as a child with a disability as defined in A.R.S. §15-763 or a child with a disability who is eligible to receive services from a school district under A.R.S. §15-763.
There is a specific application for eligibility for these scholarships that can be found on Scholarships for Disabled/Displaced Students page of the Department of Revenue's website.
However, not all STOs participate in this program. Please visit the Arizona School Tuition Organization Association website for links to STOs that serve disabled and displaced students.
Individuals and corporations who are interested in donating can take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for their contributions to certified STO organizations.
A detailed explanation of school tuition organization requirements for each of three possible credit/donation programs can be found in A Manual for School Tuition Organizations.
Empowerment Scholarship Accounts
An Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) is an account similar to a checking account with 90% of the state funding that would have been received by the school the child previously attended.
What can the funds be used for?
- Tuition and fees at a private school
- An online learning program
- Educational therapies or services
- Tutoring services
- Testing fees
- Contributions to a Coverdell Education Savings Account
- Tuition and fees at an eligible postsecondary institution
- Bank fees changed for the management of an ESA
All Arizona families can now utilize Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, allowing them to choose the best form of educational delivery for their children. Previously, the program was only available to targeted student populations.
In April 2017, Governor Ducey signed legislation to expand educational freedom in Arizona, guaranteeing that families and children have access to the best educational opportunities available regardless of where they come from or what zip code they live in.
What the bill does:
- Mandates the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) publish all expenditures made as a result of the ESA program, providing transparency on how dollars are being spent.
- The changes also require ADE to update financial figures monthly and provide enrollment data.
- The bill is estimated to provide a net savings to the General Fund by extending the temporary cap through 2022, fixing ESA enrollment at 2021-2022 levels in FY 2023, and basing ESA funding on whether a student previously attended a charter or public school.
- The nonpartisan Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates these changes will save the state $3.4 million by FY 2021.
- Requires schools that enroll at least 50 ESA students and administer examinations to make public the aggregated test scores of all students.
Enhanced Access For Low-Income Students
- Provides 100 percent of a student’s funding, rather than 90 percent, for students whose families have incomes at 250 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which is roughly $60,000 for a family of four.
- Based on input from an Auditor General report, creates new administrative efficiencies and guidelines to prevent fraud and abuse. Allows ADE to confirm with students’ schools that no child is concurrently accepting a School Tuition Organization scholarship and ESA, something prohibited by law.
- The reforms allow ADE to request documentation to confirm a student’s previous public school attendance, and directs public schools to reply within 10 days. In addition, the amendment requires ADE issue award letters within 30 days, rather than 45.
- Requires ESA funds be deposited monthly, rather than quarterly, enabling ADE to better oversee distributions.
- Removes as a qualifying expense contributions to Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, ensuring parents are spending dollars on current student needs.
- Mandates the Treasurer contract with a private financial management firm to manage ESA accounts.
- Allows ADE to request additional documentation regarding eligible expenses.
- The reform proposal responds to Auditor General feedback by establishing an ESA oversight council to provide input to the legislature and ADE and review ADE actions.
- The amendment also establishes a process for parents to appeal administrative decisions made by ADE and requires public input and a public process for ADE policy formation.
Fill out the appropriate ESA application.
For more information, The Arizona Department of Education's website answers a series of frequently asked questions.