Petitions put Arizona’s universal school choice law on hold for potential ballot challenge

The program has already seen thousands of applicants hoping to take their tax dollars to the private school of their choosing.

Updated: September 25, 2022 - 11:46pm

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Unions, Democrats, and volunteers combined thousands of signatures Friday afternoon, hoping it will be enough to get a veto amendment on Arizona’s 2024 ballot that stops the nation’s most expansive school choice program.

Save Our Schools Arizona submitted 141,714 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office in Phoenix. The number exceeds the 118,823 valid signatures needed to make the ballot but many are typically disqualified later in challenges.

Signature gatherers are hoping the electorate will strike down a broad expansion of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. If the final tally is more than the minimum needed, the program will be halted until after the 2024 general election. It was to start Saturday but is now on hold for signature verification.

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

Supporters of the program say it allows tax dollars to follow students rather than boost public schools that might not be the best option for kids. SOS Arizona and others say the program saps funds from public schools by lowering attendance, which is a major factor in a district’s state and federal funding formula.

Signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in July, the law is scheduled to take effect on Friday.

The program has already seen thousands of applicants hoping to take their tax dollars to the private school of their choosing. The Arizona Department of Education on Sept. 19 announced it had received 10,906 total ESA applications. Of those 10,338 applied under universal eligibility.

Should the ESA program survive a potential challenge at the ballot box, it would be available to an estimated 1.1 million students.

A smaller expansion to the program was vetoed via ballot initiative in 2018.