Opponents of Arizona school choice voucher expansion fail to gather enough signatures

Save Our Schools didn't get enough signatures for the voucher referendum.
Save Our Schools didn't get enough signatures for the voucher referendum.(Arizona's Family)
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 8:02 AM MST|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 5:07 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- An attempt by public school advocates and the nonprofit Save Our Schools Arizona to block an expansion of the private school voucher system has failed, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.

The law, passed by the Republican-led legislature and signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in July, allows every parent in Arizona to use public funds from the K-12 public school system to pay for private school tuition or other education. It was scheduled to go into effect last Saturday but was placed on hold after opposers attempted to block it by trying to gather referendum signatures to get it on the 2024 ballot.

Early Friday morning, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs announced that the group failed to gather 118,823 legal and completed signatures as required by the state.

“...the Secretary of State’s office has completed the statutorily prescribed review on enough sheets and signatures to determine that the number of petition signatures eligible for verification will fail to meet the constitutional minimum,” the letter said.

Save Our Schools called the news “a devastating blow.”

After the legislature adjourned, Ducey held on to the bill for ten days, which limited the time opponents had to collect signatures from 90 to 80 days.

A heated battle over Arizona’s education system

Earlier this week, Pro-ESA organizer Christine Accurso questioned Hobbs and her team’s process of counting the signatures collected, saying it was taking too long. Hobb’s office soon released a thread of tweets saying her team was on track to complete the statutorily required review of the citizen referendum within the 20-day window allowed.

Voucher opponents say the program siphons money away from the state’s public schools, which have been underfunded for decades and educate the vast majority of the state’s students. However, Ducey and the Legislature have continued to pump cash into the system over the past several years.

“In my son’s public school they are missing some teachers, had to re-arrange classes even after school started, and over 30-35 kids are in some classrooms,” said parent Marci Gluck-Clark. “And not having funding that should be made available through student enrollment is going to be even more harmful.”

Backers of the voucher program say it allows parents to choose the best school for their children. Ducey is a major “school choice” backer and touted the expansion at a ceremonial bill signing in August. “Our family, like so many Arizona families, re-evaluate every single year what is best for our kids,” says Phoenix mom Jenny Clark. “Right now, our current model of home educating in ESA is working out really, really well.”

Ducey and ESA supporters had wanted Hobbs to finish counting the signatures by Friday because they needed the vouchers sent in time for schools’ budgets.

What’s next?

The Arizona Department of Education says staff is now working on approving qualified and completed applications. Any applications currently on hold are being actively looked at. Officials say over the next few days, applicants will be sent a contract, which upon being signed and returned, will allow the office to open and fund the ClassWallet account. About 76% of applications received so far are from families who haven’t enrolled in a public school before.

For those interested in the program, applications are due by Friday, Sept. 30 for quarter one funding. Click/tap here for more information.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.