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Tipsheet

Arizona Dems’ Push to Overturn School Choice Expansion Fails

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Opponents of Arizona’s newly-enacted school choice expansion program were dealt a devastating blow last week after they failed to garner enough signatures to pause the program and place it on the general election ballot in 2024.

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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed the school choice program, Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA), into law in July. Families who qualify can spend their children’s state-funded education money on approved education expenses, including tuition for private schools. Ducey called the legislation “a win for all K-12 students.”

Reportedly, so many parents applied for the program that the Arizona Department of Education extended the application deadline.

However, a teachers' union-backed anti-school choice group called Save Our Schools Arizona attempted to take down the new law (via The Wall Street Journal): 

Arizona has a procedure called the veto referendum. If opponents of a new law collect enough signatures within 90 days of its enactment, the secretary of state can stop the law and put it on the next general-election ballot—in this case, in November 2024. The signature requirement is 118,823, or 5% of turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election.

An antichoice group, Save Our Schools Arizona, said last week it had turned in 141,714 signatures. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs—a school-choice foe and the Democratic nominee for governor—halted the processing of school-choice scholarship applications and started verifying the petitions.

It looked like a significant setback for school choice until school-choice supporters acquired all the petition sheets from the Secretary of State’s Office using public-records requests. Although Save Our Schools claimed to have submitted 10,200 sheets of signatures, the Secretary of State’s Office said on Monday that only 8,175 sheets were turned in. By counting the number of signatures on a random sample of 100 of those sheets, I estimated the total number at 92,623. The Goldwater Institute hand-counted all signatures and found 88,866.

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On Friday, Arizona Secretary of State and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs announced that the referendum failed to qualify for the general election ballot in 2024. 

Save Our Schools admitted defeat shortly after. 

“The preliminary results make it clear: Arizona families have rejected special interests’ attempts to take away their ability to choose the education that best meets their child’s unique needs,” Victor Riches, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute, said in a statement. “Families deserve the right to choose the best education option for their children, regardless of zip code, and now, they’ll once again be able to exercise that right by applying for ESAs.”

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