Gov. Ducey, parents urge quick signature verification of school voucher referendum

Parents and kids gathered to protest at the Arizona Capitol and urged officials to quickly verify signatures on a referendum that would block school vouchers.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 8:06 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Gov. Doug Ducey joined dozens of Arizona parents and children and called on the Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to quickly count the referendum signatures dropped off last Friday that would block a massive expansion of Arizona’s private school voucher system. “Now is not the time for politics,” Ducey said Wednesday during a rally in front of Hobbs’ office. “It’s a time to put these parents first. Arizona is going to be the first state that funds students, not systems.” Parents and kids held signs at the protest with messages like, “Stop holding up our kids’ education.”

The newly-expanded Empowerment Scholarship Account program was supposed to start on Saturday but was put on hold after the nonprofit Save Our Schools Arizona turned in thousands of signatures from people against the bill. Supporters of the referendum said they only need 118,843 signatures to get on the 2024 ballot. But the Goldwater Institute, a conservative and libertarian public policy think tank in Phoenix, claimed that SOSA only submitted nearly 90,000 signatures based on preliminary documents Hobbs made available to the public. Ducey and ESA supporters want Hobbs to finish counting the signatures because they need the vouchers sent for the budget deadline for schools this Friday.

Pro-ESA organizer Christine Accurso questioned Hobbs and her team’s process when it comes to counting the signatures collected last week. “Why is it taking this long for them to reveal how many signatures were even on there? We don’t even care how many valid signatures are on there! Just tell us how many signatures are on there because it will invalidate this attempt,” she said.

In response to the push for Hobbs to speed up the verification process, the secretary of state released a thread of tweets saying her team is absolutely on track to complete the statutorily required review of the citizen referendum on or before the 20-day window that the law allows. At a Save Our Schools rally at the Capitol last week, SOSA director Beth Lewis said that whatever the secretary’s count ends up being isn’t an accurate depiction of how many are against these vouchers. “These signatures come from all 15 Arizona counties, representing all walks of life, all political stripes, all beliefs. But they agree on one thing. Strong public schools make Arizona a strong state,” she said. “We know that massive expansion of the voucher program is going to cripple our public schools and we’re talking about district and charter schools.”

“They say this is about power for parents,” Lewis continued. “But, really, it dilutes all the choices that we’re all making already and lines the pockets of the rich.” But at Wednesday’s rally, Accurso said those students and parents who want other educational options should have access to them. “Three of the kids here were telling me today, ‘I’ve needed a tutor so bad and my mom and dad just can’t teach me.’ And there are a couple of homeschoolers. They’re really hoping that they’ll be able to further their education by this,” she said.

The Arizona Department of Education has confirmed that any families that submit an application for a school voucher by this Friday will remain eligible to receive first-quarter funding regardless of whether the referendum process has been completed.

In July, Gov. Ducey signed the bill that let every parent in Arizona take public money now sent to the K-12 public school system and use it to pay for their children’s private school tuition or other educational costs. An estimated 60,000 currently-enrolled private school students and about 38,000 homeschooled students would immediately be eligible for up to $7,000 per year, although a small number already get vouchers. It could mean about $58 million could potentially be taken from the budget approved in June. For more information about the ESA program, click/tap here.