Expansion of private school voucher system blocked in Arizona

Public school advocates who oppose scaling up Arizona’s private school voucher system is controlled by the Republican Legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Doug Ducey in October. 7 filed enough signatures on Friday to prevent it from going into effect.

Law, that expand the program to every child in the state, will be paused instead effective on Saturday. If an assessment shows Save Our Schools Arizona has met the requirement for nearly 119,000 valid signatures – and if those signatures survive any court challenges filed by voucher advocates – it will remain blocked until the November 2024 election.

Beth Lewis, the executive director of the grassroots group that was formed when a similar expansion was passed in 2017 and successfully challenged at the polls, said Friday that the team had obtained 141,714 signature. That number is less than they hoped, as groups trying to introduce legislation to voters or launch ballot initiatives often aim to get at least 25%.

Voters rejected the previous expansion with a two-thirds majority in the 2018 election.

Lewis partly blamed Ducey, who kept the bill in place for 10 days after the Legislature adjourned, a move that cut the time it takes opponents to collect signatures from 90 to 80 days.

“We definitely wish we would have had the 10 days Ducey stole from voters to build our mattress,” Lewis said. “But we have enough that we feel confident that with the validity of our signature, we can file and pass the processing and put it on the ballot.”

Opponents of the coupon say the program sucks money out of the state’s public schools, which have been underfunded for decades, and educates the vast majority of the state’s students, even though Ducey and the Legislature have pumped money into the system over the past few years. Supporters of the voucher program say it allows parents to choose the best school for their children. Ducey is a major advocate of “school choice” and touts expansion at a bill signing ceremony in August.

Advocates of expanding the state’s voucher program, technically known as the Empowerment Scholarship Account, are organized to try to convince voters not to sign the petition. They show up at signing events with “Refused to Sign” signs and call businesses to tell them petitioners are in their parking lots.

Among those in favor of the expansion are national “school choice” groups such as the American Federation of Children, founded and once led by Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration.

Scott Smith, a former Republican state senator who is now the AFC’s state director, said he expected “any and all” efforts to defeat the referendum, in court or at the ballot box.

Smith said: “Rest assured, whatever happens, I am sure that myself and others will be safe and that parents will do whatever they can to protect their right to teach. how best to raise their children,” Smith said.

Under the state constitution, voters can block most laws passed by the Legislature by collecting signatures. To allow for that, most new laws take effect 90 days from the date of adjournment by the Legislature, which is the final deadline to be introduced.

Although about one-third of Arizona students qualify for the existing gift certificate program — mostly those living in low-income areas — only about 12,000 students statewide currently use the system. this system.

The expansion Ducey signed will allow any parent in Arizona to receive public money currently sent to the K-12 public school system and use that money to pay for private school tuition, homeschooling materials or other benefits. other educational expenses of their children.

Arizona already has the most extensive educational options in the nation and will have the most comprehensive voucher system if the law goes into effect.

An estimated 60,000 private school students are currently enrolled and about 38,000 homeschooled students will immediately be eligible for up to $7,000 per year, although a few have received offers. All 1.1 million students attending traditional charter schools and districts will also be eligible to leave public schools and receive money to attend private schools.

Since the state education department opened a new portal for parents to register under the universal eligibility law, more than 10,000 applications have been received.

Many parents of private school students currently receive tuition through one of several tax credit programs. However, that pays less, so more people are likely to switch to vouchers.

Lewis and opponents of the program say they worry that up to $1 billion could be lost from public school system funding. K-12 schools currently receive approximately $8 billion per year in state funding.

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