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Ariz. Scholarship Program Ruled Constitutional

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Arizona's empowerment scholarship account program, which allows certain students to receive funds from the state for a variety of educational services, including private school tuition, was ruled constitutional by the Arizona Court of Appeals Tuesday

The program was being challenged by teachers' unions and school board associations in the state who argued that the program violated the state constitution's aid and religion clauses, which prevent the state from distributing public money to private or religious schools. In fact, Arizona is not allowed to operate a school voucher program because it violates the state's constitution. 

However, the court found that the empowerment scholarships provide families with a wide array of educational options, and therefore decided to uphold the constitutionality of the program. 

The empowerment scholarship account program was formed in 2011 and originally only affected families of students with special needs. 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. In 2013, the program was again expanded to include eligible incoming kindergarteners. (Previously, students had to be enrolled in public school for at least one year before they could be eligible for the scholarships.)

The funds may be used for private school tuition, educational therapy services and aides, textbooks, college tuition, online learning courses, and college textbooks, among other educational expenses. A recent analysis from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that the vast majority of families receiving funds (207 out of 316) use the funds at least in part for private school tuition, although 34 percent of the families receiving empowerment scholarship funds use them for multiple educational expenses. 

Unused funds are rolled over for future education-related expenses. 

The Goldwater Institute, which designed the program, praised the court's decision. Clint Bolick, the organization's vice president said in a press release, "This program is a lifesaver for children who have special needs or who were consigned to failing schools. For such children, there can never be too many options."

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