A Quick Guide to Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Account Everything You Need to Know

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If you live in Arizona and keep up with what’s going on in education, you’ve likely heard the term “ESA.” 

But what exactly is ESA, and how does it work? Let’s break it down.

What is the Arizona ESA program?

ESA stands for Empowerment Scholarship Account. It’s a program administered by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) that gives Arizona families access to public funds to pay for educational expenses such as school tuition, curricula, etc.

The Arizona ESA program was the first of its kind in the nation. When it first began in 2012, the program was limited to students who met specific criteria.

But, in 2022, Arizona passed a bill for the Universal ESA that expanded access to every K-12 student in Arizona without any qualifying criteria. 

Now, 77,086 Arizona students benefit from an Empowerment Scholarship Account. 

Arizona’s ESA program allows parents to fund their child's educational experience in ways that best fit their needs. They can use ESA dollars, which are not considered taxable income, to cover multiple education expenses such as school tuition, curricula, educational supplies, tutoring, and more. 

When choosing to use the ESA program, parents sign a contract agreeing to provide an education that includes at least the following subjects: reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science. 

How does the Arizona ESA program work?

So, how exactly does the Arizona ESA program work?

The AZ ESA program empowers parents to choose the best learning environment for their children. Whether it's a private school, homeschooling, or microschooling (which we’re a fan of!), families can decide what option is best for them. 

Families who participate in the ESA program access funds through Class Wallet, a state vendor with the ADE. Parents use ClassWallet to handle all of their transactions and submit expenses to be reimbursed. 

Once families have access to the funds, they can then use their ESA to pay for curricula for homeschooling, private tutoring, private school, virtual school, and additional supplemental education tools and supplies such as books, computers, and notebooks. 

How do you qualify for ESA in Arizona?

Arizona’s ESA program is “universal,” meaning all K–12 students in Arizona, including pre-K students with disabilities, are eligible to receive an ESA. 

Some families may be able to access additional funding if their student meets certain eligibility requirements.

Here’s a full breakdown of students who are eligible for Arizona’s ESA program:

  • Preschool or K-12 students identified as having a disability
  • Students with an IEP, MET, 504 Plan, or IEE
  • Students of a parent/legal guardian who is actively in the Armed Forces or who was killed in the line of duty
  • Students with a parent who is legally blind, deaf, or hard of hearing
  • Students who are currently attending a D/F-rated public school or district
  • Students who reside within a Native American Reservation
  • Students who are wards of the court
  • Students who have a sibling who is/was an ESA recipient
  • Students who have previously received an ESA
  • All other students, which the ADE calls “Universal” students in grades K-12

Now, let’s talk about how to apply for the AZ ESA program. It can seem daunting, but it's actually pretty straightforward. (We even have this handy AZ ESA Details document that breaks it down even further.)

Girl writing in her microschool

How to Apply

Applying for ESA is incredibly easy and quick. The steps to sign up are below.

Follow these steps:

  1. Go to the ADE ESA website. Here, you can find information on everything you need to know about the program, including eligibility requirements, allowable expenses, ESA login and portal access, the ESA Parent Resources and Handbook, how to contact the ADE, and more.
  2. Click on "Click here to Apply for an ESA"
  3. If you are new to creating an account, click on the red button, "No - Create My Account." 
  4. Fill out the application and upload your child’s birth certificate and other required documentation.
  5. Submit your application and wait for an approval email with an invitation to sign a contract.
  6. Unenroll your child from public or charter school before signing the contract. Failure to withdraw a student from public school will lead to suspension and possible termination of your ESA account. 
  7. Sign your contract.
  8. Access Your ClassWallet Account and start using your funds.

The ADE typically processes applications within 30 days of submission.

When you sign the contract, you do agree to certain terms and conditions, such as using a portion of the funds to provide an education in the following subjects: reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science. You can still bring your child into your neighborhood public school to be evaluated for potential learning disabilities, but your school is no longer required to service any diagnosed needs your child may have. You’ll need to take care of their needs using the ESA funds. You can apply for additional funding if your child qualifies as having a disability. 

How much does ESA in Arizona pay?

The Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program is funded with 90% of what would have been spent by the student's neighborhood public school. 

On average, students currently receive about $6,000 - $7,000 depending on location and grade level. Increased funding, however, is given to students who are identified as having a disability or other qualifying factors. 

You can find a full list of approximate funding amounts on the ADE website.

AZ ESA funds are given to students on a quarterly basis. The funding starts from the quarter the contract is completed. Here are the current quarterly funding dates: 

  • Quarter 1: July 1 - September 30
  • Quarter 2: October 1 - December 31
  • Quarter 3: January 1 - March 31
  • Quarter 4: April 1 - June 30

Now, let's talk about managing your ESA. Once you have an account, it will be funded by state education funds. Each of your students will receive an online account through a third-party payment processor called ClassWallet. You can then access your ClassWallet through the ESA portal.

Your child will receive their funding for the quarter within the first month, typically between the 15th and 30th of the first month of each quarter. It may take up to 5-7 business days for the funds to show up in the ClassWallet account. 

To use your ESA funds, log into your ClassWallet account and follow the instructions to connect your bank account to your ClassWallet account. 

You, then, have two options to use your funds (there used to be a third option—a ClassWallet debit card but as of April 2024, ADE is no longer issuing new debit cards):

  • Reimbursement. Pay for a service or expense (such as school supplies, curriculum, piano lessons, etc.) with your own funds. Then, upload your receipt to ClassWallet and wait for the expenditure to be approved. Funds from your ClassWallet account will then be transferred to your bank account.
  • Pay directly through ClassWallet. If you are paying for a service or expense using a ClassWallet vendor, then you can pay directly through ClassWallet. For example, when you enroll your child in a Prenda microschool, your guide will tell you the total fee. Prenda will then send you a quarterly invoice, which you will then upload to ClassWallet. The Department of Education will approve the payment and transfer the money from your ClassWallet account to Prenda. 

And another quick note—as a parent, you do not need to spend all of your child's funds each quarter. If you have money left over, it will continue to roll over to the next quarter to be used on education. 

You can even allow the funding to roll over to pay for state college tuition. Once a student has completed the ESA program, which is when they have graduated from high school or received a GED, they will have four additional years to use the remaining funds in the account.

bookshelf in a microschool

What expenses are covered by Arizona ESA?

Arizona ESA funds cover a plethora of expenses and services. 

Many parents use ESA to cover school tuition, fees, textbooks, curriculum, extracurriculars, educational camps, supplementary materials, education-related subscriptions, tutoring, uniforms, and so much more! 

Funds may also be available for therapies, paraprofessional or educational aides, evaluations, and more for students with disabilities.

ESA funds cannot be used for entertainment, noneducational devices, televisions, telephones, video game consoles, home theater and audio equipment, daycare fees, gift cards, lodging, animals, and more. 

For a full list of what is and isn’t approved, check out the parent handbook. Remember, it’s important to know what is and isn't allowed before making any purchases. 

How can an ESA program plan help with microschooling?

Under the Empowerment Scholarship Program, thousands of students in Arizona are attending microschools with no out-of-pocket cost to parents. Microschooling is one of the fastest-growing educational movements in the country, and Arizona is leading the way. 

Most Prenda microschools cost between $5,500 and $7,000 per year, including the full Prenda learning experience, access to 24/7 math tutoring, a dedicated academic coach, and typically about 20 hours of class time per week. So the good news is ESA funds are usually enough to cover a child's full Prenda microschool experience!

It’s a no-brainer for Arizona families who are looking for a personalized, small-scale learning environment.

For parents looking to find a microschool for their child that accepts ESA (most Prenda microschools do!) to cover the cost of microschool tuition, go here.  

And if you can’t find a microschool near you, become a guide yourself! We make it so easy!

Prenda’s microschool management system and learning approach are intentionally designed to help you run a microschool whether you have education experience or not.

Starting a microschool is an amazing experience. 

And don’t just take it from us.

Take it from Heather: 

"I went to a Prenda info session and loved everything I heard but was unsure about leaving my job and pulling my kids from public school. I was nervous that I didn't have what it took to teach, and leaving the only system I knew seemed scary and crazy. We made the jump, and I started a microschool with my own two children and four additional learners. My students love coming to school every day so much that going home is the most challenging transition... I find that my life has slowed down to a pace where I can be present and enjoy every moment. Thank you to Prenda for offering this life-changing experience." 

—Heather, Prenda guide

If you are curious about starting your own ESA microschool, take our FREE 30-minute course: The Beginner's Guide to Microschooling.‍ Or, if you’re ready to jump right in, Create a Prenda World account today and start designing your future microschool. 

Whether you become a guide, find a microschool near you, or just jumpstart your journey towards more joy and peace at home (by checking out our awesome content designed to help you help kids unlock their motivation, hold on to their love of learning, and live powerful, purposeful lives), we’re excited to have you join us on our mission of empowering learners. 

Want more information about ESA?

Be sure to check out the Arizona ESA Networking group on Facebook. Also, check out the 2023-2024 ESA Parent Handbook and ADE's Parent Guide

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