Arizona school choice advocates pressure Katie Hobbs to disqualify initiative

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Katie Hobbs .(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

Supporters of Arizona’s new universal school choice law had a message for the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday: get the lead out.

The law was set to go into effect on Friday last week, but it is on hold as the Secretary of State’s office counts signatures gathered by a group hoping to repeal the law with a 2024 ballot initiative but admits to likely being short.

Save our Schools Arizona, the group organizing the initiative, says it gathered 141,714 signatures; if 118,823 of those signatures are valid, then the law will be blocked and left up to the voters in 2024. But a cursory count of the total petitions indicates the group will not have enough. The group publicly claimed it submitted 10,200 sheets, but Katie Hobbs’ office confirmed only 8,175 sheets.

Earlier in the year, Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law an expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. Arizona families who participate in the program receive more than $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, micro-schools, tutoring, and other forms of education outside of traditional public schools. It used to be a targeted program, but the new law opened it up to all families in the state.

Advocates say the Secretary of State’s office should make that announcement as soon as possible so people can take advantage of the new law.

At the press conference outside of the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday, Ducey said the new law will benefit many families.

“Now is not a time for politics,” he said when calling on the Secretary of State’s office to expedite its signature counting. “It’s a time to put these parents first. Arizona is going to be a state that funds students, not systems.”

The Secretary of State’s office has 20 business days to count these signatures. 

There are more than 12,100 applications for ESAs, according to state officials.

In a letter to the secretary of state’s office, House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said that this misrepresentation is reason enough to throw out all signatures. He also estimates that the initiative is about 30,000 signatures short of what it would need to make the ballot.

“In short, there is no colorable, good faith basis for believing that the Committee filed 118,823 or more signatures,” Toma said. “You previously issued rules stating that if, ‘[a]t the time of filing, the purported # of signatures is lower than the constitutional requirement, your office must reject [the]entire filing,'” he wrote. “In this instance, however, the Committee falsely inflated its sheet and signature counts, reporting 125% and 160% of the true number of sheets and signatures, respectively.” 

Hobbs, the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, defended the way her office is conducting its business on Twitter. She said that elected officials are misrepresenting what her office can and can’t do for political purposes.

“The Secretary of State’s team is absolutely on track to complete the statutorily required review of the citizen referendum on or before the 20-day window that the law allows,” Hobbs wrote. “There is a high level of interest in the outcome of this filing, and we will continue this work efficiently and accurately. Regardless of the reports that the number of referendum signatures will fall short, our office must complete the review according to the law. Details of the review process can be found in chapter 4 of our initiative and referendum guide.”

Republished with the permission of The Center Square.