Save Our Schools Arizona prepares to fight expansion of ESA program
Save Our Schools Arizona is preparing for the likelihood that Gov. Doug Ducey will sign legislation that expands the voucher-style Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program to all K-12 students.
What's happening: The group successfully referred a previous expansion of the ESA program to the ballot in 2018, when it was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. It is considering doing the same if Ducey signs House Bill 2853.
- Once Ducey signs the bill, Save Our Schools will have 90 days to collect at least 118,823 valid signatures.
- If the group collects enough signatures, the expansion plan would go on hold until voters can weigh in during the 2024 general election.
There's more: Beth Lewis, a spokesperson for Save Our Schools, says the group is considering other options as well, including litigation under the Arizona Constitution's Voter Protection Act (VPA).
- The VPA severely restricts the legislature's ability to alter voter-approved laws.
- Lewis says Save Our Schools could sue under the VPA because voters already rejected ESA expansion four years ago.
- Yes, but: Whether the VPA could prevent lawmakers from enacting a law similar to one voters already rejected is an untested legal theory, Lewis acknowledges to Axios.
Lewis says Save Our Schools' national funders have also approached the group about a possible citizen initiative for 2024 that would enshrine the current limitations in the ESA program, including helping only students with disabilities or those who attend failing schools.
The other side: Republican Rep. Ben Toma, who sponsored the ESA legislation, says things have changed a lot since 2018, when voters defeated the last expansion law.
- Toma says unpopular education policies enacted during the pandemic have increased public support for school-choice programs.
- He also says that many ESA supporters, including himself, voted against the 2018 law because there was a cap on the number of students who would be eligible, meaning the VPA would have prevented future expansion.
What's next: Save Our Schools will announce its plans either this week or next, likely depending on if or when Ducey signs the bill.
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