In this 2008 file photo, children whose parents support state tax vouchers to send them to private and parochial schools demonstrate outside the Arizona Supreme Court. Arizona now has a voucher-like program called empowerment scholarship accounts. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Capitol Media Services photo by

Changes to Arizona’s pseudo-voucher program will mean one in five public school students will qualify when applications open next spring.

And the release of school grades last week revealed — indirectly — some of the newest students who may seek the funding.

“Empowerment scholarship accounts,” also called educational savings accounts, were approved two years ago by lawmakers. They provide students who qualify with funds worth up to 90 percent of what a public school would receive to educate them. In return, students must agree to leave public schools.

The funds can pay for educational services such as private school tuition or tutoring. The money can also be put away for post-secondary education.

Originally, the funds were set up for special education students attending public schools. Last spring, lawmakers expanded the program to children in permanent foster care, children of active military members and students who attend failing public schools — those that receive a D or an F from the state.

Last Thursday, the state released those school grades and more than 150 schools in Arizona received a D. Schools with Fs have not been identified yet.

Aiden Fleming, the program administrator for the state department of education, estimates one in five public school students now qualify for the empowerment savings accounts.

“There are approximately 117,000 special needs children, 90,000 children attending D and F schools and 13,000 in permanent placed foster care (unverified by our department),” Fleming wrote in an email. There also are an unknown number of children of active duty military, he said.

“With at least 200,000 children eligible for the program that captures about 1 in 5 Arizona students,” he said.

Applications for this school year were processed over the summer. For next school year, applications will be available in the spring.

This year, the second year of the program, there were 307 active educational savings accounts as of late July, with another 20 to 30 pending because of late paperwork, Fleming said.

The highest award this year was $28,685. The lowest was $2,185.06. The average award was $16,699.60, Fleming said.

Previously, there were two application seasons — fall and spring. But with the adoption of the changes, there will only be one now, Fleming said.

For more information about the voucher-like program, visit online.

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