Universal school voucher foes in Arizona turn in signatures to force a public vote in 2024

Anti-education choice group Save Our Schools Arizona gathered enough signatures to put a 2018 effort of state lawmakers seeking to expand education savings account eligibility up for referendum.

Editor’s note: This article appeared Friday on azmirror.com.

Teachers and public school advocates on Friday submitted nearly 142,000 petition signatures to block the new universal school voucher program that was set to go into effect Friday and let voters decide its fate in 2024.

Save Our Schools Arizona PAC said it gathered 141,714 signatures to give voters the chance to weigh in on the expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, the formal name of the voucher system.

Whether voters will get that chance remains to be seen. The signatures represent almost 23,000 more than needed to refer the matter to the ballot, but state and county elections officials will inevitably whittle that number down when they verify the petitions comply with legal requirements and that the signers are registered voters.

And then there will be a legal challenge from school-choice backers. Arizona law allows opponents of citizen initiatives or referendums, like this one, to challenge the signatures in court. In the past decade, GOP lawmakers — with backing from big corporate interests upset that voters have approved minimum wage hikes and tax increases — have made it easier for challengers to disqualify large swaths of petition signatures.

If, after all that, the referendum has at least 118,823 valid signatures, the ESA expansion will be blocked and voters will have their say in November 2024. If the effort has too few signatures, the expansion will immediately go into effect.

Until all that happens, the law will remain blocked.

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BY Special to NextSteps