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6,500 Arizona families apply for school vouchers under program expansion

Nearly 6,500 Arizona families have applied for school vouchers under an expansion of the controversial education program.

The program once catered mostly to special education students, and helps pay for private school tuition or other education expenses.

But a bill signed into law this year by Gov. Doug Ducey provides universal access to the $7,000 vouchers, called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, approximately 75% of those who applied under the universal category had no prior record of public school enrollment. 

Save Our Schools Arizona is gathering signatures to block the new voucher law. The group needs slightly more than 118,000 valid signatures to keep the voucher law from taking effect. It would remain blocked until voters can weigh in in November 2024.

Under the new law, an estimated 60,000 private students and about 38,000 being homeschooled would immediately be eligible to take up to $7,000 per year. Some of this currently get vouchers and many already get money from groups like School Tuition Organizations that funnel tax credits to students.

All 1.1 million students who attend traditional district and charter schools would also qualify to leave their public schools and get money to go to private schools. About a third already qualify, but only about 12,000 students statewide now use the system.

Voucher expansion is set to take effect on Sept. 24.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.