How Does ACSTO Work?
We believe every student should have the opportunity to receive a Christian Education. Our goal is to do everything we can to make this affordable for you. Since 1998, ACSTO has awarded more than $240 million to 38,000 Arizona students. Tax Credit Scholarships have made it possible for thousands of families to send their children to Christian Schools—we hope your family will be one of them!
When an Arizona taxpayer makes a donation to ACSTO, they receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their state tax liability. This means that at the end of the year, if they would normally get a refund, they’ll get a bigger refund. If they normally owe taxes, they’ll owe less.
In turn, we use these tax credit donations to award tuition scholarships to K-12 students attending one of our Partner Schools.
In addition, when a taxpayer makes a donation to ACSTO, they can identify a school and recommend a student to be considered for a scholarship. By Arizona law, a recommendation does not guarantee a scholarship. However, when our Selection Committees make their award decisions, they do consider these Donor Recommendations along with the Financial Circumstances and the Narrative provided in the student’s Scholarship Application.
In order to be considered for a scholarship, ACSTO needs a current Scholarship Application for each of your children. Your children must also be enrolled at the school listed on the application.
Types of Scholarships
ACSTO awards two different types of tuition scholarships, Original and Overflow. Both of these scholarships are funded through the tax credit donations we receive. If you have completed a Scholarship Application, your student will be considered for each type of scholarship they qualify for.
Any student who is enrolled at one of our Partner Schools is eligible to be considered for an Original Tax Credit Scholarship. These scholarships are funded through donations to the Original Tax Credit.
If a donor maximizes their contribution to the Original Tax Credit, they may donate an additional amount to the Overflow Tax Credit. Our Overflow Scholarships are funded through these contributions. These scholarships are similar to Original Scholarships, however, only certain students qualify to receive them.
To be considered for an Overflow Scholarship, the student must be enrolled at one of our Partner Schools and also meet one of the following criteria:
- The student attended an Arizona district or charter school for at least 90 days in the prior school year, then transferred to a private school.
- The student is currently enrolled in Kindergarten at a private school.
- The student is a dependent of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who is stationed in Arizona under military orders.
- The student previously received an Overflow or Corporate scholarship in a prior year, and has attended private school continuously since.
Beginning with the '21-'22 academic year, eligibility prerequisites have been expanded to include:
- The student was homeschooled immediately prior to enrolling in a private school.
- The student moved to Arizona from out of state immediately prior to enrolling in a private school.
- The student participated in the ESA program and did not renew or accept the scholarship in order to accept STO scholarships.
If your student meets one of these criteria, we can consider your student for an Overflow Scholarship once we receive a verification document. Public school switchers should complete a Public/Charter School Attendance Verification Form. Military families should submit a copy of their military orders. Corporate Scholarship recipients or Overflow Scholarship recipients should submit a Previous Scholarship Award Verification Form or a previous award letter from the awarding STO. (If ACSTO awarded an Overflow Scholarship and the student remained continuously enrolled in private school since that award, we do not need a form or letter.) Kindergarten students do not need any additional documentation, they just need to be enrolled and five years old by December 31 of their Kindergarten year.
NOTE: By law, a completed application and/or a donor recommendation cannot guarantee a scholarship. ACSTO does not have set scholarship amounts. There is no limit to how much a student can receive as a scholarship. In the event that our Selection Committees award a student a scholarship larger than the current year’s tuition, ACSTO will hold the excess as a multi-year scholarship, with the excess amount to be used during the next school year. ACSTO’s Selection Committees have complete discretion over award decisions.
Arizona also offers scholarship opportunities to families considered to be low income, students with disabilities, or students who are currently or were once in Arizona's foster care system. Don’t think you qualify as low income? A family of four with a household income of $90,000 can qualify—learn more about these opportunities from our sister organization, School Choice Arizona.
Applications for the next school year become available beginning on February 3. ACSTO does not have family accounts—our Selection Committees consider each student separately when making scholarship awards. Each student requires a separate application, however, only one application is required per school year (not per award). Applications expire on May 31 of the school year shown on the application, regardless of when we receive them.
ACSTO has four Award Cycles per school year. Each cycle consists of an Original Award, followed by an Overflow Award, with both awards sharing an Application Deadline and a Donation Deadline. ACSTO considers every student who has a current application, is enrolled, and meets the qualifications of each type of scholarship before the cycle's Application Deadline; we award donations made by each cycle's Donation Deadline. View our Award Year Timeline for more details and deadlines.
Our Selection Committees consider three criteria when making award decisions: the Financial Circumstances of the student’s family (a required factor by state law), the Narrative in the Scholarship Application, and any Donor Recommendations received for the student.
Recommendations are not required to receive a scholarship, however, your odds of receiving a scholarship do increase with recommendations. This is because without recommendations, your student only has two-thirds of the criteria our Selection Committees consider, while a student with recommendations has all of the criteria available for the committees to consider. This can be a big motivation for parents to talk to friends and family about making an ACSTO donation recommending their student(s) for a scholarship.
By Arizona law, a recommendation cannot be the sole criteria that ACSTO uses to make an award decision. This means that, by law, recommendations cannot guarantee a scholarship. In addition, a parent cannot donate to ACSTO and recommend their own dependent, or agree to exchange recommendations with any number of parents (also known as "swapping").
For the purpose of the tax credit scholarships, Kindergarten is defined as the school year immediately prior to entering first grade. To qualify for a scholarship, ADOR regulations state that a Kindergartner must turn five years old on or before December 31 of their Kindergarten year. In addition, the ADOR stipulates that parents should not knowingly enroll their student in Kindergarten with the intention of repeating it.
Tax credit scholarships may not be used to pay for preschool classes (such as Pre-K, K1-K4, kinder-bridge, kinder-care, begin-dergarten, playgroups, etc.), although the tax credit law does make exceptions for preschool students with disabilities who attend private schools that provide services to accommodate these students (A.R.S. 43-1601). For more information, please contact our office.
State regulations do not allow STOs to award scholarships to children who are too young to qualify. Donors can donate to ACSTO and recommend a child for a scholarship up to one year prior to attendance in K-12th grades at one of our Partner Schools. Recommendations received sooner than this will be considered for other children at the school identified by the donor.
Our goal is to make Christian Education affordable for your family. Still have questions about how ACSTO works? We’d love to help! Give our office a call today at 480.820.0403, or Contact Us online!