An explanation of Arizona’s ESA program and addressing the opposition’s talking points & myths.


Parents in Arizona have the right to choose the education that is best for their child and have their education tax dollars pay for it. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) make that possible.

With the ESA program, the money that would pay for that student’s education in a neighborhood school follows that student to whichever school the parents choose for their child, including education at home.


  • Expand educational opportunities for eligible students outside of the public school system
  • Provide public funding that can be used for a wide variety of educational expenses
  • Pays for private school tuition, educational therapies, tutoring, and more


There are 5 ways to educate the 1.1 million students in Arizona and these have been set into our state’s statutes by our Legislature.  They are:

  • Public School – what you normally think of a school, needs to meet state and federal standards.
  • Charter – privately owned schools that operate on a “charter” like (STEM, Arts, Vocational, etc.) and report to and are administered by their local school district so they also need to meet state and federal standards.
  • Private – paid for by parents or STO’s (tax credit scholarship programs) or ESA funds but operate independently of the state Department of Education and normally have a religious or other charter.  They normally adhere to or exceed state educational standards.
  • Traditional Homeschool – parents sign an affidavit that they will educate their kids and withdraw their learners from the public school system.  There are no state funds available and there are no state or federal standards that have to be met.
  • Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) – also referred to as “home educated” or “privately educated” learners.  The learner receives a scholarship of 90% of the state education funds for the district that they reside in (around $7,000 annually; if special needs they can receive up to $43,000 annually!).  The school district still receives 10% of the state funding, 100% of the federal funding and 100% of the bonds and over-rides for the student in their district, even though that student is no longer enrolled by that school district.

The parent, signs a contract with the Arizona Department of Education’s ESA Program office to “opt out” of public school.  The student must receive curriculum or teaching in the 5 core subjects (math, language arts-reading/grammar, science, history, social studies) but other than that, they can study what and how they like.  The scholarship funds are not a voucher, the money is directed by the parent and follows the student.  All expenditures are reviewed and approved by the ADE’s ESA Program office and by statute, payment is made by a third party (Class Wallet).  Basically, any expenditure that a public school can spend money on, can be spent in the same way by the ESA student with exceptions for unreasonable expenses that the rest of the family can use (see allotment list link below).

A few more points to know:  

  • Arizona is at the forefront of school choice and freedom in the US.  While Florida has 400,000 students in their ESA programs they have a much harder process in place to create new schools, so educational innovation is not as robust in that state – more on this below.
  • ESA’s started in 2011 to serve special needs students.  ESA’s became universally available to all 1.1 million Arizona K-12 grade students in June 2022.  Since then, the program has grown from 12,000 students to over 76,945 as of April 1, 2024.  Many people believe the program will grow to over 100,000 students soon.
  • Opponents of ESAs make the claims below in bold – I added a summary of the counter arguments beneath each claim and provided links to articles supporting the counter claims were relevant:
    • The program needs more oversite & accountability.
      • We find that most ESA parents (especially special needs parents) are “mama bears” when it comes to their kid’s education.  They are frugal with their ESA funds and they want and demand flexibility for their learners to learn how they learn best, with the people they learn best with.  If they are not happy, they will simply take their learner’s ESA funds and go down the street until they find a service provider that meets their needs.  Our new website ESAConnection.com makes this even easier to do.  So, with minimal administration required, the money truly does follow the learner to where and how they learn best.  Why hire more bureaucrats?  Parents are much better at holding teachers accountable than bureaucrats.
    • The program is not safe because there is limited credentialing and oversite of ESA vendor/teachers by the state.
      • Arizona lawmakers made it easy to start an educational business in order to increase innovation and because they trust parents to administer their child’s education.  Most service providers are former public-school teachers and have certifications and the same DPS Level One Fingerprint card and background check that Arizona’s Department of Education requires on all of its public-school teachers.  Our new website ESAConnection.com makes it easy for parents to check these credentials.  We are seeing many “non-traditional” teachers as ESA vendors and this is a good thing because it’s providing more choices for parents and learners.  Many “non-credentialed” vendors provide enrichments (art, music, sports) or vocational education (avionics, sewing, blacksmith, etc).  All Arizona requires of an ESA vendor is that they have a High School Diploma and an “Attestation Form” be completed.  This form contains a list people who will have contact with learners.  Vendors must “attest” that these people have at least a high school diploma or equivalent and the proper credentials to teach the subject.  The ESA program has been around since 2011 and there has been no reported instance of a safety issue with ESA program vendors.  This is because parents are directly involved in screening and evaluation these vendors.  When parents don’t feel their learners are in a safe environment, they simply change vendors and the money follows the learner to the new vendor without any board meeting, review or bureaucracy involved.
  • ESA’s are not vouchers.  Voucher programs have been established in other states to enable students to attend a school that is different from their local school.  The state will take that student’s funding away from the school they are leaving and pay a “voucher” on that student’s behalf to the school that the student chooses to attend.  There is much less flexibility in a voucher program.  Unfortunately, many people who are not supporters of the ESA program refer ESAs as “vouchers” to downplay the freedom and flexibility that ESAs provide parents.
  • ESA’s have been written into law and supported by our current legislature – which only has a one seat majority in the Senate and in the Legislature.  Most people are bracing for a big turnout at the polls in November on both sides.  As a result, there are many parents who are holding off on switching their learners to ESAs until they know that the program will continue to be provided in the event that control changes in our Legislature.  Most of the political insiders that I know, think that if control of the legislature does change, it is possible to lose ESAs, but not probable.  With 77,000 students now in the program, it would be very politically unpopular to vote to take this program away – and ESA parents are very vocal.


Accessing the ESA Program:

Enrolling your learner in the ESA program normally takes about 3 weeks.  They will need to un-enroll from public school once you sign the ESA program contract.   Use the links below:

Eligibility Requirements

Click Here to Apply for an ESA

Check Application Status

ESA Applicant Forms

ESA Parent Resources and Handbook 

ESA Parent Advisory Committee

ESA Law and Administrative Rules

ESA Guidance

Class Wallet Information

ESA Allowable Expenses

ESA Applicant Portal Access

Visit the HelpDesk

[email protected]

(602) 364-1969

Contact Arizona Department of Education

Becoming an ESA Vendor:

To be an ESA vendor you simply need a high school degree.  Our new website ESAConnection.com makes it easy for people to set up and start their own teaching business.  Once you have your business set up, register with Class Wallet and file the Attestation Form with the ESA program – it should take about three weeks; here are the links to what you will need:

ESA Program Resources:

How Parents and ESA Vendor service providers can connect:

ESAConnection.com enables parents to input their learner’s needs and generate a list of providers who meet those needs.  The parent can then view a brief website & profile on each provider and reach out to the providers who meet their needs.  We make it easy for parents to quickly see and evaluate a provider’s experience, credentials, DPS Level 1 fingerprint card/background check and search geographically, by budget, teaching methods and more.  Parents and service providers can also “connect” in Community Forums and with educational Blogs, News, Events and “clickable” advertisements.  Click on this link to take a virtual tour of the website.

Vendors can join ESAConnection.com and use our seven-step process and set up their business in less than 2 hours and $85 – which is paid to the State of Arizona.  They will set up their LCC, get their tax ID, set up their website and join a market-place where parents can find their services.  Vendors can also advertise, participate in Community Forums, Blog and post their News & Events.  All of these services are provided to vendors for less than $25/month.    Click on this link to take a virtual tour of the website.

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