After Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs conceded the signature-gathering effort to repeal the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) expansion did not qualify for the 2024 ballot, experts weighed in to Fox News Digital.
“We have informed the SOS committee that the referendum will not qualify for the 2024 General Election Ballot. While the statutorily required review continues, our office has inspected enough petitions & signatures to confirm that the 118,823 signature minimum will not be met,” Hobbs said in a statement.
Hobbs’ announcement comes after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, R., and other top Arizona lawmakers called on Hobbs to unfreeze a school choice program that would benefit over 1.1 million K-12 students in the state.
GOV. DUCEY, ACTIVISTS CALL ON ARIZONA SEC. OF STATE KATIE HOBBS TO UNFREEZE THE SCHOOL CHOICE PROGRAM
“The time has come for us to put this into law,” Ducey said at a rally in front of Hobbs’ office on Wednesday. “The date has passed. I am calling for Katie Hobbs to expedite the signature verification project.”
Ducey urged Hobbs to unfreeze the education savings account program that he recently made universally eligible to all K-12 Arizona students.
After more than 10,000 students applied to the program, it was obstructed by Arizona’s veto referendum. In Arizona, a law can be stopped by the Secretary of State if an opponent of the law collects enough signatures within 90 days of its enactment. The signature requirement is 118,823, or 5% of turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election.
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Save Our Schools Arizona, which opposed school choice measures, pushed the petition and conceded defeat once Hobbs made the announcement.
“Today, Arizona’s public schools were dealt a devastating blow. The universal ESA voucher scheme passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Governor Ducey has gone into effect despite our network’s herculean effort to stop it in its tracks. The Secretary of State’s office has reviewed the petitions our campaign turned in and has determined we fell short of the minimum signature threshold required to stop universal voucher expansion,” the group said in a statement.
Before Hobbs’ announcement, Save Our Schools claimed to have submitted 10,200 sheets of signatures, prompting Hobbs to start verifying the petition and freeze the program.
However, the Goldwater Institute countered their claim after they and the Center for Arizona Policy Action counted the ballots, stating that Save Our Schools Arizona only submitted 88,866 signatures. The official number released by Arizona’s Secretary of State’s office showed 86,640 signatures.
The failure for the issue to make the ballot means the ESA program is in effect.
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Matt Beienburg, Goldwater Institute Director of Education Policy told Fox News Digital that “Arizona’s universal ESA program is a triumph for every student in the state.”
“With its passage, Arizona has fundamentally shifted the balance of power in K-12 education away from politically radical teachers unions and put it back in the hands of parents and their children,” Beienburg added.
Senior fellow at the American Federation for Children Corey DeAngelis told Fox News Digital that “parents have real power and this Arizona victory proves it.”
“The school choice wave cannot be stopped. Voters saw through the lies of the group fighting to trap kids in failing government schools. Parents prevailed in Arizona. And they will prevail throughout the country, because parents care about their kids more than anyone else. Parents will fight for the right to educate their kids as they see fit harder than anyone will fight to take that right away from them. Parents are the new special interest group in town and they aren’t going away any time soon,” DeAngelis said.
Heritage Foundation Education Fellow Jason Bedrick told Fox News Digital that “this is a massive win for Arizona families.”
“Now all K-12 students will have access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts that they can use to choose schools and other learning options that align with their values and meet the individual needs of their children. Arizona is the gold standard for education choice,” he said. “JThe key difference was parents. Mobilizing under the banner ‘Decline to Sign,’ Arizona parents showed up wherever SOS-AZ was gathering signatures to make their voices heard. In the end, voters declined to side with the special interests and decided instead to side with parents.”
Bedrick added that there’s a lesson here for policymakers in other states that the teachers’ unions and their allies are paper tigers.
“Parents want education choice and are willing to fight for it so that they can give their kids the education that best meets their needs. Arizona is a model for other states to follow in terms of both policy and advocacy,” Bedrick said.
Fellow Heritage Foundation Education Fellow Jonathan Butcher said the education savings accounts will “give all children the opportunity to look to the future with hope,”
“Parents have every right to demand that public resources dedicated to their children’s education are actually used in educating their children rather than feeding an insatiable and unaccountable bureaucracy,” Vice President of Education Policy at California Policy Center Lance Christensen told Fox News Digital. “The voters of Arizona rightly understand the stakes and reject efforts to undermine their children’s education by the cabal of special interests who have no stake or interest in the academic success of our K-12 population. Soon, other states will follow Arizona’s courageous lead.”
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“The petition drive against Arizona’s universal school choice program didn’t fail for lack of resources or effort. It failed because it is increasingly difficult to convince people to deny schooling options to families,” said Patrick Wolf, Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at the University of Arkansas.
The Arizona Department of Education extended the application deadline by two weeks, because of increased number of people signing up for the ESA program. The Arizona Department of Education received 12,100 applications for their school choice program since August 16th.