Arizona State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) fired back at the Director of Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), Beth Lewis, after being called a “MAGA extremist” Sunday.

“Expressing our beliefs is the foundation of democracy [,] not interfering with it. Instead of name calling try using substantive and persuasive facts to sell your perspective. Otherwise you simply come off as a simpleton,” Ugenti-Rita tweeted.

This comment came after Lewis posted a video saying some state senators and representatives were ‘interfering with democracy.’ These other officials include State Senators Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) and Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff), and State Representative Ben Toma (R-Peoria). Lewis claimed that legislators were harassing people at a signing event for a ballot initiative pushed by SOSAZ.

“They’re all extremist lawmakers who are Trumpers and MAGA extremists,” Lewis said. “They are out here harassing our volunteers, surrounding 80-year-old women, calling businesses and lying, all to make sure that we don’t get to have signatures by this Friday to stop universal voucher expansion and keep public funding in public schools.”

The SOSAZ is attempting to overturn the recently enacted universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) bill HB 2853, sponsored by Toma, which Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed into law in August. The organization shared that Arizonans already rejected expanding school vouchers by voting against Proposition 305 in 2018. If their initiative passed, it would put this new law to a vote for the people to decide. SOSAZ claims universal ESAs siphon $1 billion or more from public schools and are a misuse of taxpayer dollars. All signatures for this initiative are due by Friday. The group needs a total of 118,832 valid signatures in total. The new law goes into effect on September 24.

However, one falsity the group has made is calling ESAs a “voucher expansion.” According to the Arizona Department of Education (DOE), vouchers differ from the accounts. While a voucher is only for private schools, parents can use an ESA for a variety of educational needs such as tutoring, online learning programs, standardized testing, or supplemental curriculums.

Moreover, Arizona author Grant Botma recorded some conversations between the SOSAZ and potential signers, saying the organization was spreading false information. One claim is that ESA users get a $20,000 debit card they can use without any regulation. The ESA Parent Handbook outlines what is and is not allowable for ESA use. Furthermore, funds are handled by ClassWallet, a third-party vendor which entrusts the funds to a holder. ClassWallet offers a debit card, but holders are required to upload a complete invoice after every transaction. The card can be deactivated if an invoice is not submitted after 20 purchases. The Goldwater Institute shared that the average student would receive $7,000 annually.

Botma also claimed that ESAs taking a billion from the public school system is a lie. He referenced the bill text, which nowhere mentions taking that sum of money from public schools. AZ Free News reported that the $1 billion estimate was not officially from the state legislature but originated from SOSAZ.

In response to the videos posted by Botma, Lewis did not deny any of the allegations of spreading false information but instead took issue with the secret recording that occurred.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Beth Lewis (Left)” by Save Our Schools Arizona.Β