Arizona Teachers Unions’ Attempt To Nix School Choice Expansion Appears To Fail

Arizona passed a massive school choice expansion over the summer.
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15: Students walk to board a school bus in Manhattan's East Village on January 15, 2013 in New York City. Drivers of the city's school buses are set to go on strike tomorrow after negotiations with Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed to reach an agreement; over 150,000 children will need to find an alternate method of transportation to school. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images

An attempt by Arizona’s teachers unions to block the state’s massive school choice expansion appears to have failed.

Save Our Schools Arizona, an anti-school choice group backed by teachers unions, is trying to get a ballot referendum for the state’s new expanded school choice program, but the group appears to have fallen dramatically short of the required signatures.

On Friday, Save Our Schools claimed that it had collected 141,714 signatures, well above the 118,823 valid signatures required to trigger a ballot referendum of Arizona’s school choice expansion, the Arizona Mirror reported. The signature threshold is equal to 5% of all votes cast in Arizona’s last gubernatorial election.

However, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, the group filed a total of 8,175 petition sheets, the AZ Mirror noted. Based on that number, according to the outlet, they would have had to fill nearly every line of every sheet with signatures to meet the threshold. To meet the number of signatures they claimed to have, they would have had to have an overflow of signatures on every sheet.

Many of the sheets were nowhere near full, according to school choice advocate Corey DeAngelis.

Two pro-school choice think tanks, the Goldwater Institute and Center for Arizona Policy, calculated that only about 89,000 signatures were filed.

On Monday, the executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona admitted that the group had probably failed.

“I think we will end up short, yes,” Beth Lewis said.

The final results are slated to be made public in October after the Secretary of State’s Office reviews the signatures.

Arizona expanded its school voucher program over the summer. Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) signed a bill in July allowing every Arizona student to get a taxpayer-funded Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) to pay for their education at a private school, about $6,500 per child for grades 1-12.

In the first two weeks after the online portal for new ESA applications opened, the state received around 6,800 new applications for school vouchers. More than a million K-12 public school students are eligible for an ESA account under the expansion, up from 11,000 students previously, according to the Goldwater Institute, which fights for school choice and parents’ rights.

“The preliminary results make it clear: Arizona families have rejected special interests’ attempts to take away their ability to choose the education that best meets their child’s unique needs,” said Victor Riches, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.

“Families deserve the right to choose the best education option for their children, regardless of zip code, and now, they’ll once again be able to exercise that right by applying for ESAs,” Riches continued.

On Monday, Arizona House Republican Majority Leader Ben Toma, who sponsored the school choice bill, also responded to the anti-school choice group’s apparent failure.

“Chalk up another major victory for Arizona families wanting the freedom to choose the education that best meets their child’s needs,” Toma said in a statement.

“School choice is increasingly popular with Arizona parents, especially those whose children are stuck in a failing school, so I find it baffling that anyone would try so hard to take that choice away from parents. It’s good that they have apparently failed,” he added.

Meanwhile, Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for Arizona governor, is running on an explicitly anti-school choice platform. Earlier this month, she released her education plan, which includes rolling back the voucher expansion.

Support for school choice has increased since before the pandemic as frustrated parents confronted school boards over a litany of issues including COVID restrictions and curriculum materials they deemed inappropriate.

Other states are also working to expand school choice. Last month, a school choice group in Michigan cleared one of two major hurdles it needs to circumvent Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s (D-MI) veto of a school choice measure.

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