Secretary of State Completes Preliminary Review of Referendum Petitions

19 August 2017  
The petitions will now be sent to County Recorders across the state for review. 

Main Point: The latest laws expanding the eligibility for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are suspended pending a potential referendum to Arizona voters.

What You need to know:

1. The Legislature passed laws this year expanding the eligibility of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs)
2. The expansion would be phased in over the next 5 years
3. Save Our Schools Arizona opposes this expansion
4. Save Our Schools Arizona filed a petition with the Secretary of State to send the question to the voters
5. Save Our Schools Arizona collected approximately 111,540 signatures (many more than the 75,321 required)
6. The Secretary of State is following the legal process for signature verification now
7. ESAs are currently limited to specific students
8. Approximately 3500 families currently participate in ESAs

On August 8, 2017, Save Our Schools Arizona filed an estimated 9,078 petition sheets containing 111,540 signatures in support of R-02-2018.

The Secretary of State’s Office has completed its preliminary review of referendum petitions in accordance with Arizona law, and has determined that the committee filed 9,291 petition sheets.  Of these, 8,950 petition sheets containing 108,224 signatures remained eligible for random sampling and County Recorder review.

A 5% random sample of these signatures has been sent to the County Recorders for signature verification under Arizona law.  In order for the measure to qualify for the 2018 General Election ballot, the County Recorders must collectively validate at least 3,767 signatures (or 69.6%) from the random sample.

The deadline for County Recorder review is September 11, 2017.

What does the petition do?

The petition seeks a statewide vote on the latest legislation (SB 1431 and HB 2394) regarding Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which expanded the eligibility for the vouchers to all children in Arizona.

"This petition seeks to refer 2017 Laws, Chapter 139 (SB 1431), the principal provisions of which expand eligibility for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), commonly referred to as school vouchers; remove the existing ESA enrollment cap, and increase it annually by 0.5% of total public school enrollment through 2022; and cap ESA enrollment in 2023. SB 1431 includes other provisions, including but not limited to the administration of the ESA Program, distribution of ESA monies, and adoption of policies and procedures."

About the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts

This year, the Arizona Legislature expanded the eligibility of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) and removed the current enrollment cap and increased it annually by 0.5% of total public school enrollment through 2022. According to the EDChoice website  the expansion would eventually make the program open to nearly all of Arizona’s K-12 students. 

However, the petition from the Save Our Schools Arizona kept the provisions of SB 1431 and HB 2394 from going into effect on August 9, 2017 as scheduled. If the Secretary of State determines there were enough valid signatures on the petitions turned in, the legislation will remain suspended until it can be determined by the voters of Arizona.

The Goldwater Institute describes ESAs like this, "Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are like flexible spending accounts for healthcare, except that instead of depositing money into the account from a paycheck, the state government deposits a child’s share of school funding into the account. If a parent or student decides the public school they are assigned to is not meeting their needs, they can leave their school and instead receive money from the state through an account to pay for alternative education options and expenses."

Currently, the program is only available to students:

  • With special needs
  • In failing schools
  • Low income students
  • Students adopted from state foster care
  • Students on Native American reservations
  • Students with active duty military parents

Attempting to offer the same opportunity to all students in Arizona, the Legislature passed SB 1431 and HB 2394,  which phased in expanded eligibility over several years and the Governor signed the bills into law. But that doesn’t matter, if the petition succeeds in bringing the matter to a statewide vote.

Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSA) is against this expansion, claiming that the ESA “Vouchers Rob from Public Schools”. As they explain on their website:

  • Vouchers are predicted to redirect millions in taxpayer funds from the public education budget to any Arizona family to pay for K-12 private school tuition (including religious schools), online school, or even home schooling. (Source: Arizona Republic)
  • Vouchers take money away from our already underfunded schools. Adequate funding for public schools is crucial to success. (Source: Network for Public Education)
  • 95% of Arizona families choose public schools. (Source: Ballotpedia) Most students graduate from their district schools, and district schools have higher graduation rates no matter what type of school students attend. (Source: AZ Ed News) Arizona must invest in these families in order to succeed.
After the petitions were turned into Secretary of State’s office, the Goldwater Institute issued the following statement:
“Arizona parents want their children to succeed, and Arizona’s empowerment savings accounts give them the tools to help make that happen,” Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Jonathan Butcher said. “An expansion of Arizona’s ESA program benefits all Arizona children, allowing them and their parents to create a custom education that meets their unique needs. We’re confident that Arizona families agree.”
In the past year, an average of 165 families have applied each month to participate in Arizona’s ESA program. Today, approximately 3,500 families participate.

For more information:

Save Our Schools Arizona

Website: Save Our Schools Arizona
PO Box 28370
Tempe, AZ 85285
(480) 861-7988
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Beth Lewis, ChairpersonCatherine Sigmon, Treasurer

Arizona Department of Education

Arizona Department of Education ESA page





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Lynne LaMaster

Lynne LaMaster is the Founder and Editor of the eNewsAZ Network of websites. She asks a lot of questions! In her spare time, she loves photography, cooking and hanging out with her family.