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Petition underway to prevent controversial Arizona school voucher program

Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-12 14:09:50-04

PHOENIX — A petition is circulating in Arizona against a school voucher program that Governor Doug Ducey issued.

Many supporters, however, like the Director of Education Policy at the Goldwater Institute Matt Beienburg, says this could be a game-changer.

Supporters like Beienburg say they are thrilled Empowerment Scholarship Accounts have been signed into Arizona law heading into the school year.

"Just the way every student has access to go to a local public school, if they'd like to under this program, now they'll be able to apply for and join the ESA program and use that for at-home education, private school, tutoring, any kind of resources that family thinks would best serve that student,” says Beienburg.

These accounts will provide more than $6,500 per student annually and will be taken from the public school system’s funding pool.

it's a new law passed four years after voters rejected a similar initiative.

"There was obviously an initiative a few years ago dealing with this topic,” Beienburg says. “One of the big differences between this, is that legislation that was put forward, was going to provide access to students. But it would put things in a lot of strings and regulations.”

Beth Lewis, Director of Save Our Schools, is also a parent and educator.

Lewis says, “People all around the state are furious that the governor and the legislature, you know, defied the will of voters.”

Lewis launched a petition Saturday in reaction to the voucher expansion, she is trying to get 118,000 signatures before the law takes effect on September 24 which would put the issue back before the voters. That’s 5% of all qualified voters.

She joins others who believe the voucher program needs more oversight. The Secretary of State then goes through a verification process. If everything checks out, it would be up for a vote in 2024.

“The money was allocated this legislative session to our public schools,” says Lewis. “We're seeing, you know, great glimmers of teacher salaries go up across the state, district by district, and the fear is that if you siphon another billion dollars out of our public schools via vouchers, we're not going to be able to keep up with that.”

Lewis says this referendum does not impact the current ESA Voucher Program for students with special needs, military families and residents of Native American reservations.

Now that the ESA Program has passed legislation, it takes 90 days to take effect. On September 24, families can enroll on the Arizona Department of Education website. That’s if Save Our Schools does not get enough signatures on their petition. From there, the department would transfer funds into a family’s account for their student’s education.