Signature numbers debated in Arizona voucher challenge

Supporters of a massive expansion of Arizona's private school voucher system say public school advocates have failed to file enough valid signatures to temporarily block the law ahead of a proposed 2024 ballot referendum.

The grassroots group says it "will await accurate numbers from the Secretary of State's office regarding their challenge to the Republican-backed law that incentives families to pull their children out of K-12 public schools.

The executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona had announced that the group had turned in more than 141,000 signatures to block the private school voucher expansion signed into law by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in July.

Nearly 119,000 valid signatures are required.

"We collected signatures for the last 80 days to try and stop these universal vouchers from going into effect," said Beth Lewis, director of Save our Schools.

The Goldwater Institute, which helped create the program in 2011, says the opposition fell short with only 88,866 signatures.

"They recognize their initial estimates were wildly exaggerated and did not reflect the actual number of signatures that they turned in," said Matt Beienburg, director of education policy at the Goldwater Institute.

However, Lewis says their victory was announced prematurely and only the Secretary of State can make the determination on this matter.

"It's no surprise that they’ve postured and tried to put out this number before our democratic process," Lewis said.

Details about the voucher system

HB 2853 was proposed by House Majority Leader Ben Toma, a Republican who represents the state's 22nd Legislative District, which covers a portion of the northwest Valley, as well as a portion of northern Maricopa County.

According to an Associated Press article, HB 2853 gives all Arizona parents the ability to take state money that would go to their local public school, and instead use it for private school tuition or other educational costs.

A universal school voucher expansion, according to the AP, has been a key goal during Gov. Ducey's eight years in office. Due to term limits, he is ineligible to run for another term in this year's gubernatorial election.

According to the AP, voters in Arizona rejected a similar plan during the 2018 elections.

That year, the issue of universal school vouchers was the topic for Proposition 305, which, according to that year's official election results, was rejected when around 1.58 million voters voted ‘no.'

The AP article on the ballot measure's defeat noted that opponents of Proposition 305 also benefited from a division amongst parents whose children were, under the rules at the time, eligible for the vouchers, with some fearing that opening up eligibility to all could leave insufficient funds and openings for those with special needs.

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