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Arizona Families Put Ed. Scholarships Toward Private School Tuition

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About 66 percent of the families receiving funds through Arizona's education savings accounts are using the money for private school tuition, says an analysis of the program by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

The program, which started in 2011, was originally rolled out to families of students with special needs. The funds can be used for private school tuition, educational therapy services and aides, textbooks, college tuition, online learning courses, college textbooks, and other educational services.

In 2012, the program was expanded to include children in active-duty military families, foster children, and families with students in D- or F-rated schools as determined by the state's accountability system. In 2013, the program was again expanded to include eligible incoming kindergartners. (The program previously required that students be enrolled in public school for at least a year before they could be eligible for the scholarships.)

How much money each student receives differs depending on the student. The base rate of the scholarship is 90 percent of the cost of the per-pupil allotment for that student, which is about $2,845. Students with special needs may receive significantly larger amounts of funds weighted according to their disability.

The scholarship money is placed in an account that parents can access, and unused funds are rolled over for future education-related expenses, such as college tuition. This unique model encourages parents to weigh the educational opportunity they're pursuing with the cost of the service to make informed decisions, say backers of the program.

Since the program started in 2011, 34 percent of the families participating used the funds for multiple education options including private school tuition, tutoring, educational therapies, and other uses. Of the 316 families receiving scholarships, 207 are using the funds at least in part for private school tuition at 87 different private schools throughout the state.

A full breakdown of the percentage of the scholarship money going to the different educational options is below. (Click to enlarge.)

ESAgraph.jpg

Of the $2.9 million in funds distributed in the 2011-12 school year through the first quarter of the 2012-2013 school year, about $1 million went unspent by families.

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