NSBA urges Arizona court to scrap “empowerment scholarships”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is encouraging the Arizona Court of Appeals to overturn an Arizona law that allows parents of students with disabilities to use taxpayer funds to pay for private schooling if they sign away their constitutional rights to a public education.

NSBA has filed an amicus brief in Niehaus v. Huppenthal, in which the Arizona School Boards Association and several other education organizations filed suit against the state’s “empowerment scholarship” as violating Arizona’s constitution.

The Arizona scheme allows parents of special education students to withdraw their students from public schools and receive up to 90 percent of the public funds to spend on private schooling. The law also includes students in public schools with a letter grade of D or F, children of active military members, wards of the juvenile court, and all previous scholarship recipients in the 2013-14 school year.

“This law requires parents to give up their constitutional rights to re-enroll their children in an Arizona public school for an entire school year, which violates a student’s fundamental right to an education under Arizona’s  constitution,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr.  “Unwitting parents hoping for the best education for their children may be lured into making a false choice that they cannot escape without incurring severe economic loss, because the law compels them to sign away their rights to a public education in exchange for the voucher money.”

Families would also lose the protections granted by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees  all students with disabilities an individualized education program (IEP),  and a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), and the due process rights to ensure them in public schools. These guarantees would not be available to students opting for the “empowerment scholarships.”

“Arizona’s latest voucher scheme is bad public policy, and  is part of a nationwide effort by special interest groups to undermine public education by diverting scarce tax dollars to private hands, with little, if any, accountability,” Negrón said.

Joetta Sack-Min|November 6th, 2012|Categories: School Law, School Vouchers, Uncategorized|


  1. Staci Burk says:

    The NSBA should be aware that many local school board members in Arizona, including myself support this program. It reduces the burden on school districts to educate special education students with needs or situations that districts struggle with. I am aware of several cases where the district was paying for an expensive private school and the parent withdrew the student and put them in a less expensive private school using ESA funding and the child is in a better situation.

    If the parent has accepted an ESA and it was not what was best for the student, the State has allowed the parents to revoke the contract and place the students back in public schools with a pro-rated amount taken out of the account.

    This is a good program for kids, districts and taxpayers. I wish that the NSBA would spend its time focusing on helping board members like myself improve education quality in our schools and programs instead of writing amicus briefs and inserting itself in a States rights issue.

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