Referendum to block ‘vouchers on steroids’ bill is on track to qualify for the ballot


Good news is so rare these days, but here is some good news . . . let’s hope. Arizona group says school voucher bill repeal is on track:

A group that opposes a major private school voucher expansion bill signed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey says it is on track to collect enough signatures to place the law on hold.

Save Our Schools spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker says the group isn’t releasing an exact count of the number of signatures it has collected. But she said the all-volunteer effort should have well above the minimum of 75,000 signatures by the Aug. 8 deadline.

“We know we have enough petitions out in the field, we know exactly who has them and we have enough out that if there was such a thing as 100 percent we could be getting more than 150,000 back,” Penich-Thacker said in an interview late last week.

Opponents say vouchers siphon money from the state’s underfunded public schools and the expansion will allow wealthy families to use state cash to send their children to private and religious schools. They also say vouchers won’t cover total costs at many private schools, meaning people of average means won’t be able to use them.

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If the effort succeeds, the voucher expansion will be put on hold until voters can weigh in during the November 2018 election.

Arizona has had a school voucher program since 2011 that began as a program for disabled students. It was expanded to other groups and now allows about a third of all 1.2 million K-12 students to use public money to attend private schools.

Still, only about 3,500 students currently take advantage of the program.

The new law expands eligibility to all students by 2022 but caps total enrollment at about 30,000. [Removing the cap will be Sen. Debbie Lesko’s goal in the next legislative session, if voters are fools enough to reelect her.]

Republican state Sen. Debbie Lesko championed the plan and said she’s hoping the effort to block it fails.

“I oppose the effort because I want to allow parents to choose the best education for their child, and they’re trying to stop it,” Lesko said.

The voucher bill was among the most contentious of this year’s legislative session, with most Republicans backing it but all Democrats and a handful of GOP members opposed. Opponents in the Legislature, mainly Democrats, argued that it will benefit the wealthy and sap local public schools of needed cash.

Technically called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, the Arizona program allows parents to take between 90 percent and 100 percent of the state money a local public school would receive to pay for private or religious education. The average student who isn’t disabled currently receives about $6,000 a year to pay for tuition or other costs.

The expansion will give Arizona one of the broadest voucher programs in the nation. Nevada has a similar plan applying to all students, but its funding mechanism was struck down by the state Supreme Court, and the Legislature this year failed to come up with a replacement plan.

The voucher law will take effect Aug. 8 if the group fails to block it.

If you have not already signed this petition, be sure to do so before the end of the month.

Be forewarned: GOP opponents will go over every petition and signature seeking to disqualify as many valid signatures for hyper-technical reasons as possible. Referendums are subject to the “strict compliance standard” of review.

Which leads to the other referendums currently circulating out there challenging onerous changes to Arizona’s citizen initiative process passed by our lawless Tea-Publican legislature to effectively render the citizen initiative process impossible unless financed by big corporate dollars, i.e., the Arizona Chambers of Commerce, the evil bastards behind these bills to take away your constitutional rights as a citizen of Arizona.

One petition is from Grassroots Citizens Concerned (R-01-2018), and two other petitions are from Voters of Arizona (R-03-2018 and R-04-2018). These are grassroots efforts, and I have not heard from either group how their signature gathering is going to date. They have the same August 8 deadline to file.

Again, if you have not already signed these petitions, be sure to do so before the end of the month.


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