Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake blasted her Democrat opponent, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, for taking a week to reject a referendum to stop Arizona’s universal Empowerment Scholarship Account law from going into effect, despite evidence already showing the motion failed.
“It is shameful that Katie Hobbs aligned herself with the radical unions’ effort to permanently trap Arizona’s kids in failing schools, then hung Arizona’s parents out to dry for a week by suspending the school choice program despite overwhelming evidence the referendum failed to get enough signatures,” Lake said in a statement to The Arizona Sun Times. “Katie Hobbs is on the side of corrupt, bloated school bureaucracies, but I will never stop fighting to give Arizona’s parents more choice in their children’s schools and more control over their children’s education.”
The news broke Friday that House Bill (HB) 2853, the universal ESA law, was saved from the 2024 ballot. A letter from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office (SOSO) confirmed that the organization behind the referendum, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), did not submit enough signatures.
“While review of the petition sheets and the signatures thereon is ongoing, the Secretary of State’s Office has completed the statutorily prescribed review on enough sheets and signatures to determine that the number of petition signatures eligible for verification will fail to meet the constitutional minimum of 118,823 signatures,” according to SOSO.
Hobbs did not sign the letter herself, but she tweeted a statement with a similar message.
We have informed the SOS committee that the referendum will not qualify for the 2024 General Election Ballot. While the statutorily required review continues, our office has inspected enough petitions & signatures to confirm that the 118,823 signature minimum will not be met. pic.twitter.com/UVydtBH5oi
— Secretary Katie Hobbs (@SecretaryHobbs) September 30, 2022
The Sun Times reached out to the SOSO for more about the signature counting and why it took Hobbs a week to reject the referendum but did not receive an answer.
In response to the news, Arizonans and organizations celebrated the victory for school choice.
Jenny Clark, the founder of Love Your School, said doors are now open for all Arizona kids.
“The parents have spoken! They want education options for their kids. The now 12,000 students who pre-applied for an ESA will now have access to this incredible program! Before today, unnecessary barriers to the program limited too many Arizona children. Now the door has been thrown open for ALL Arizona kids,” said Clark in a statement to The Sun Times.
Moreover, Christine Accurso, leader of the Decline to Sign Arizona movement, which opposed SOSAZ’s efforts, said this begins a new day for Arizona.
“I am grateful to the parents of Arizona who stopped this referendum campaign and allowed this law to come to life,” said Accurso. “As a longtime ESA parent, I could not be more thrilled to see thousands of new parents benefiting from this program.”
— Christine Accurso (@ArizonaCatholic) September 30, 2022
The Goldwater Institute (GI) also played a significant part in this School-choice success story. Matt Beienburg, the director of Education Policy at the GI, said this is a victory for the nation.
“This is a monumental victory for students not only in Arizona, but also across the nation,” said Beienburg. “Lawmakers in every other state now know it’s possible to defeat the radical teachers unions and make students the priority of our education system once again.”
The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) also updated after the SOSO rejected the referendum. Over the past week, the ADE had all ESA applications under the “universal” category on hold. However, that has changed on Friday, and the ADE will begin approving these applications, although they warn the process may take months to complete due to a large number of applications.
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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 “Kari Lake” by The Kari Lake. Photo “Katie Hobbs” by Katie Hobbs. Background Photo “Arizona State Capitol” by Wars. CC BY-SA 3.0.