Challenge to Az's private school vouchers fails to gather enough signatures
The expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which Republican lawmakers approved earlier this year, makes a program that had previously been implemented in a limited capacity available to all 1.1 million Arizona students. The program gives participants about $7,000 to pay for private school, homeschooling or other educational options — and it can be socked away to pay for college in the future.
Now that the referendum effort has failed, the Arizona Department of Education announced that it would begin to approve voucher applications received for the expansion.
Save Our Schools Arizona, the group that hoped to put the expansion to a referendum, announced on Sept. 23 when it turned in its petitions that it collected 141,714 signatures, more than enough to get it on the 2024 ballot.
But it soon became clear that was incorrect.
“Though our estimated signature count was much higher, the discrepancy was influenced by several factors, including the incredibly high volume of returns of petitions in the final week, days, and hours of the campaign,” Save Our Schools said in a statement on Friday. “Our grassroots campaign relied on hand counts and volunteer hours, in stark contrast to deep-pocketed special interests like the Goldwater Institute who use sophisticated software to further their goal of dismantling public education in Arizona.”
Save Our Schools Arizona did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the announcement Friday morning from Secretary of State’s Office.
The Secretary of State’s Office said that it would release signature totals once it completes a full review of the petitions, as is required by law.
According to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, the group filed 8,175 petition sheets. That means the group would have needed about 17.3 signatures per petition sheet to hit the number of signatures claimed — an impossibility, as there are only 15 lines per sheet.
The Goldwater Institute and Center for Arizona Policy — conservative groups that have advocated for the school voucher expansion and marshaled a campaign to hinder Save Our Schools Arizona’s referendum effort — claimed that fewer than 89,000 signatures were actually filed.
“This is a monumental victory for students not only in Arizona, but also across the nation,” said Matt Beienburg, director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute. “Lawmakers in every other state now know it’s possible to defeat the radical teachers unions and make students the priority of our education system once again.”
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.