The Arizona Department of Education approved 75 "empowerment savings accounts" for students with disabilities to attend private schools this fall. The accounts total just over $1 million.

The state Legislature created the voucher-like program in the spring. Applicants had to be students who qualify for special education services in areas such as autism, language delays or visual impairment, and who have attended a public school in the previous school year for at least 100 days.

Students are awarded funding that totals 90 percent of the money a public school would have received had the student enrolled there. On average, schools receive between $5,000 and $6,000 per student, though special education students are funded more because of the services they require.

Proponents say the savings accounts will help save tax dollars, since they would not be enrolled in a public school and they do not receive 100 percent of the funding.

The lowest account awarded this fall was about $1,900. The highest was $28,000. The average was $13,600, according to education department.

The funds can be used to pay for private school tuition, pay for home school curriculum, or fund tutoring or other services. Funds left over can be used for post-high school expenses.

The next round of applications will be due in November for the spring semester.

State lawmakers previously set up school vouchers for special education and foster care children, but the state Supreme Court said that program was unconstitutional. Unlike vouchers, proponents say, the savings accounts can be used to fund a variety of educational expenses.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or

​Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune


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