Here’s what Arizona parents need to know about applying for school vouchers

Sep 30, 2022, 12:59 PM

(Pexels Photo)...

(Pexels Photo)

(Pexels Photo)

PHOENIX – Now that Arizona’s school voucher expansion can move forward, state education officials are asking parents to be patient as they work through a backlog of applications.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs announced Friday morning that the voter referendum to block the universal expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) fell short of the required number of signatures.

The Arizona Department of Education has been accepting applications for the vouchers since mid-July but wasn’t permitted to process them until the referendum process had played out. If Save our Schools Arizona had collected enough valid signatures, the Republican-passed expansion would have been on hold until the issue went before voters in 2024.

Richie Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Friday that more than 12,000 applications had been submitted as of Thursday.

Taylor said the department will work through the weekend to process the applications, but he wasn’t sure how long it would take to get caught up and for the accounts to be funded.

“We’ve never done it on this scale before, so we’re asking people to be patient,” he said. “We are committed to getting funds to families as quickly as we can.”

Under the universal expansion, all Arizona students are now eligible for around $7,000 a year to cover education expenses if they leave the public school system for private schools or homeschooling.

“It’s a relatively simple application,” Taylor said. “There are only a few questions and then documentation to establish residency.”

Details about the process are available on the Department of Education website.

After an application is approved, the family will be sent a contract and have 30 days to complete and return it.

Then, education officials work with the state treasurer’s office to fund and activate the ESAs, which could take several weeks, Taylor said.

ESAs are funded on a quarterly basis, and the first quarter ends at midnight Friday. Normally, applications are due by the end of the quarter. But so many applicants were trying to get in after Friday morning’s announcement that the deadline to apply for retroactive first-quarter funds was pushed back to Oct. 15.

Although about a third of Arizona students qualified for the previous voucher program — which was limited mainly to those living in low-income areas with failing schools — only about 12,000 students statewide were using the system.

Taylor said that about 75% of the new applicants under the universal expansion category have no previous record in Arizona’s public school system.

“Those could be people who were already attending private schools or were homeschool students who were not previously eligible for the program or were not under the program for whatever reason,” he said.

“Beyond us knowing if they had a public school ID in our system or not, it’s kind of hard for us to speculate exactly where they were receiving an education before now.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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Here’s what Arizona parents need to know about applying for school vouchers