Half of the students in the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship account have dropped out of public school.

(Center Square)

The share of students taking advantage of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program has shifted dramatically after previously attending a public school.

According to the latest data from the Arizona Department of Education, 47,200 students are now participating in the ESA program. The data, released Monday, is a significant increase from the nearly 30,000 students who participated in January.

“We get 150 new applications every day,” said Christine Accurso, executive director of the ESA program “When we first started on Jan. 3, we had about 120 a day.”

Accurso shared with The Center Square a change in the proportion of ESA students who were once students at a public school in the state.

“In August, the Department of Education announced that 75% of students in the ESA program had never had any public school experience,” Accurso said. “That number today is 51%.”

Accurso can easily reach this number because students who have never enrolled in an Arizona public school lack state identification.

“If you look at all the ESAs we have and those who have a state ID and those who don’t, 51% don’t and 49% do,” he said. “You see a lot more people leaving the public school system.”

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Arizona’s ESA program allows parents to take 90% of the state allotment for a public school student and use it to pay for their child’s private school tuition or other educational materials.

Former Gov. Doug Ducey initiated an expansion of the program through the Arizona Legislature to allow any student to apply, not just those whose parents are low-income or have disabilities. The ESA program allows about $7,000 for parents in the form of a pre-paid card.

Critics of the program say there is a lack of oversight over authorized spending. Accurso, who oversees the approval process, said any approved expenses must be tied to the student’s curriculum.

Newly-elected Governor Katie Hobbs said in her State of the State address that the program would bankrupt the state budget. He promised to bring back the program.

“Funding this expansion will cost Arizona taxpayers an estimated $1.5 billion over the next 10 years, if not addressed,” he said.

Accurso said a rollback of the ESA program represents potentially thousands of students out of a school where they are thriving.

“It’s horrible,” he said. “We never want to remove a child from a school where they are thriving where the parents enrolled them.”

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Arizona’s legislative leaders have assured the department they will not allow the ESA program to be rolled back, Accurso said.

Accurso expects to increase ESA applications for students applying to private schools for the spring 2023-2024 school year.

Syndicated with permission from Center Square.