School funding

Holland Sterling, left, and Cassidy Brunton, right, both in the eighth grade, work on a tablet for the next issue of the Eagle’s Quill, the literary magazine published by students at St. Michael’s School, located at 602 N. Wilmot Rd. in Tucson, Ariz. 

A bill was signed last week that, over the course of a few years, will make all Arizona school children eligible for state money to help pay for private or parochial school. 

The money — also known as ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) AKA school vouchers — have been available to students who met certain eligibility requirements (special needs, parent in the military...) since 2011. 

Now an additional 5,500 students will be eligible to receive the money in time for the 2017-18 school year. 

Here's what you need to know about the new law.

Who's eligible?

Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, any child who currently attends or is eligible to attend public school in kindergarten, first, sixth or ninth grade is eligible to apply. 

The old law still applies to those not in the grades mentioned above. Eligibility requirements for those students are: K-12 student with a disability, preschool student with a disability, active military family, legal guardian is legally blind, deaf or hard of hearing, lives within the boundaries and attends a D or F rated school, lives within an Indian Reservation, is the sibling of a qualifying applicant or a ward of the court. 

When will other grades be eligible?

Kids entering kindergarten, first, second, sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth grade will be eligible in the 2018-19 school year.

Students entering kindergarten, first through third or grades six through 11 in the 2019-2020 school year will be eligible to apply.

For the 2020-21 school year, any student eligible to attend public school in kindergarten through 12th grade will be able to apply for a school voucher. 

How much money could I qualify for?

The amount awarded depends on the child's need. Awards for non-special needs children range from $3,000 to $7,800 with an average award of $5,728. For special needs applicants the range is $3,000 to $33,500 with an average award of $18,971.

What can I use the money for?

Money will be deposited into the student's empowerment scholarship account and can only be used for tuition or fees at a qualified school; textbooks; tutoring; curricula; and fees or tuition for a nonpublic online learning program. For children with special needs, the money can be used to help pay for vocational or life-skills education; psychological or educational evaluations; assistive technology rentals; and braille translation services approved by the department. 

How much does private school cost per year here?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 61 private schools in Pima County. 

Tuition varies for for each school, ranging from $5,100 up to $16,675 per year.

Here are some examples of what it would cost to attend some of Tucson's most well-known private schools next year — not including registration or supply fees: $8,762 for elementary students at Kino School; $9,760 for middle school students at St. Michael's School and $9,400 at Salpointe High School

How many vouchers will be awarded?

A cap has been set for 5,500 new students for this coming school year. So, combined with the old cap of 3,500, there could be as many as 9,000 students on the program for the 2017-18 school year. 

The Arizona Department of Education says it's doubtful that cap will be met since the old cap isn't currently being met. 

An additional 5,500 students will be able to sign up each year until it caps out at 30,000 by 2022.

When can I apply?

There is no official deadline to apply since applications are taken year round. 

Applicants can apply at any time and they can request their account be closed at any time. 

How to apply

The new application has not been posted yet, so those interested should watch the website for updates. You can do that here (this is also where you will get your application). 

Students who meet the requirements of the old law can still apply using the application that is currently posted. 

Source: Arizona Department of Education

Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson