School choice veto likely falls short following misrepresented signature count

A member of Save Our Schools Arizona at a protest. Ross D. Franklin

Activists attempting to void the nation’s broadest school choice expansion appear to have filed far fewer signatures than they had told state officials. 

Save Our Schools Arizona announced Friday afternoon its submission of 141,714 signatures on 10,200 petition sheets to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office. The number was above the requisite 118,823 needed to put HB 2853, a law making the Empowerment Scholarship Account program available to all students, on hold until the 2024 general election. 

Christine Accurso, a citizen activist and parent of a long-time ESA recipient child, attained from Hobbs’ office the digital copies of the sheets. The state confirmed Save Our Schools Arizona had submitted only 8,175 sheets. At her rough average of just over 10.5 signatures per sheet, Accurso is confident that the effort has likely fallen short of not only what they claimed but also of the minimum requirement.

“I am not surprised at all that Save Our Schools lied again,” she told The Center Square Monday. “Saying you are turning in 10,200 petitions when in reality it was only 8,175 is not a rounding error; it’s another way they are deceiving the public.” 

As one of the parents that followed Save Our Schools Arizona’s effort, Accurso claims to have video of petition gatherers being dishonest with residents to coax out a signature.

Hobbs’ office confirmed Monday to The Center Square that the real sheet count was 8,175. 

“We are required to follow the process in A.R.S. 19-121.01 before we can make a final determination of the petition’s eligibility,” said Deputy Communications Director Sophia Solis. “This requires review of every sheet and every signature. We will accurately and efficiently conduct this review process, so the public knows what to expect as soon as possible.”

The secretary of state’s office has 20 business days to review.

Save Our Schools Arizona Director Beth Lewis didn’t respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. 

As previously reported, the ESA program offers eligible students a prepaid card to spend on things like private school tuition, supplies, or a range of educational tools and activities. The state estimates each student would be eligible to spend $6,000 to $7,000, but many are likely to spend less. 

Based on the number of petition sheets actually submitted, the nonprofit Goldwater Institute estimates the effort attained a total of around 88,866 signatures.

“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.

Goldwater and the Center for Arizona Policy spearheaded the initial Arizona ESA program.

“Arizona families want choice in education. That is clear by the preliminary low signature count,” said Cathi Herrod, Esq., President of the Center for Arizona Policy Action.

Republished with the permission of The Center Square.