Phoenix-based Private School for Students with Autism Offers Scholarships Through School Tuition Org

Gateway Academy, a Phoenix-based private school for students with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, will provide scholarships to families through its new School Tuition Organization (STO). O. Robin Sweet, the school’s director and CEO, described the initiative as “a lovely opportunity to help families that could not afford a private specialized education obtain that for their child who needs a specialized program.”

The Arizona Department of Revenue states that STOs are able to “receive income tax credit contributions that fund scholarships for students to attend qualified private schools located in Arizona.” In other words, individuals and corporations can donate annually to Gateway Academy to fund student scholarships, and the donated amount will then be deducted from their state tax filings for that year.

As noted in a report this month by, private schools can establish a certified STO if they are registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofits and follow rules regarding scholarship disbursements. 90% of the STO funds a private school receives must be used for scholarship funding, according to Arizona state law. Gateway Academy meets these criteria, since it already provides scholarships to about 93% of its students.

Almost all of those existing scholarship funds are derived from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, which provides state-funded scholarships to private school students. Over half of the students in the ESA program have disabilities. To qualify for ESA, students must have a diagnosis, be in foster care, have a parent actively serving in the military, or be Native American.

The new Gateway Academy STO will allow Gateway Academy to offer scholarships to students who aren’t eligible for ESA funding, and might not be able to afford tuition costs without it. Sweet says Gateway’s scholarship opportunities can help reduce the financial burden of families who already spend large amounts on health-related programs for their children with autism.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to offer all of those services under one roof,” Sweet said. “That was the reason that we started Gateway, is to take some slack off and give it to the parents so that they can have a typical family life and not always be carting their kids to all these different therapists.”

“I think the general public, when they think of private school, they think… only the wealthy can participate,” Sweet added. “And the beauty of the Empowerment Scholarship allows parents from any socioeconomic group to participate in a private education.”


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