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New Arizona School Voucher Law On Hold As Group Submits Petition Signatures

By Carrie Jung
Published: Tuesday, August 8, 2017 - 6:12pm
Updated: Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - 4:16pm
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Carrie Jung/KJZZ
Save Our Schools Arizona collected more than 111,000 signatures in their effort to put the question of ESA expansion before voters in 2018.
Carrie Jung/KJZZ
Dozens of parents and kids who supported the ESA expansion law protested the referendum filing on the Capitol lawn in August 2017.

A group opposed to the expansion of Arizona’s new Empowerment Scholarship Account law submitted more than 111,000 petition signatures to state officials Tuesday. The move puts the law on hold for now.

A grassroots group known as Save Our Schools Arizona delivered the signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on a school bus, carting dozens of boxes inside with little red wagons.

State officials will now begin verifying if the required 75,000-plus signatures were collected. If the group makes the mark, the law would be blocked until November 2018 when the question of whether to expand Arizona’s private school voucher program would go before voters.  

Beth Lewis, Save Our Schools chair, said the group isn’t opposed to Arizona’s original voucher program, which restricted enrollment to certain groups of students, like those with disabilities.

But she argued the expansion diverts more money away from a public school system that she believes is woefully underfunded.

"I, as a teacher, have filled out that paperwork myself, and I fully support it for those parents," Lewis said. "But that’s different than taking regular students out of A and B rated classrooms and putting them into private school that their parents can already afford."

She added she’s aware that there will likely be legal challenges or that the Legislature could still repeal the law and enact new legislation to get around the move, but for her, any repeal is a victory.

"That means we did our work and that it mattered," said Lewis. "As for a replacement, let them try."

Several dozen parents and kids were at the state Capitol to oppose the referendum filing. They and other supporters of the voucher program expansion says the law gives parents more options to give their kids a quality education.

On the Capitol lawn, Valley parent Jennifer Bejarano added the fact that the new funding will be delayed and possibly halted for this school year will seriously impact her family's finances. She explained that her husband worked two jobs before the ESA expansion to cover her kids' tuition.

"And this was going to benefit me because he was going to quit his second job to be with us a little bit more," Bejarano said. "I'm sad that people are against it."

While the state wouldn’t have begun doling out the new funding until about October, some private schools, like Legacy Academy, told parents they could enroll their kids and wait to pay tuition.

With the potential for a delayed rollout of SB 1431, officials with Legacy say there is no plan B, but they add they are actively looking for ways to help impacted families.

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