A committee opposed to expanding school choice in Arizona on Friday claimed to have submitted enough signatures to send to voters the question of whether to overturn or uphold a law that would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which allows all students to access a scholarship for private schools. By Monday, however, it appeared unlikely enough valid signatures were secured.
The law, House Bill 2853, was signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in July. It would allow Arizona families to use $7,000 of state education funds per student every year to pay for any approved school they choose, including private schools, parochial schools, and homeschooling.
In Arizona, citizens have the right to veto legislation signed by the governor through a referendum before they are enacted into law. This must be done no later than 90 days after the Legislature that passed the bill adjourns for the year.
HB 2853 was set to go into effect on Saturday before the signatures were submitted on Friday.
The referendum needed 118,00 signatures to send the law back to voters. Save Our Schools, the organization supporting the referendum, said that they had received more than 141,714 signatures. By Monday, however, the group had backed off the claim, acknowledging their push to limit school choice likely did not attract the support from Arizona voters they had projected.
Under current Arizona law, only 23% of students are eligible for an Education Scholarship Account or ESA, including students with special needs, foster families, and military families. However, HB 2853 would expand this to all 1.1 million public school students in the states.
Referendum supporters like Save Our Schools argue the bill would hurt Arizona public schools by reducing tax dollars to K-12 public schools. An earlier attempt to expand ESAs in 2018 was rejected by voters.
School choice supporters insist the bill would allow families to have more education options that fit their needs and preferences.
Jenny Clark, a school-choice proponent, has said that expanding ESAs will allow Arizona families to “take that control back and do what’s best for our kids when they need it and how they need it.” Her organization, Love Our Schools, helps parents navigate their education choice options, including ESAs.
If the signature-gathering effort beats expectations, the law would be placed on the ballot in 2024 for voters to decide.