A move to prevent a vote that could restrict the expansion of Arizona's school voucher system has failed in the state's highest court.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruled those filing a challenge to the ballot initiative had no standing to question the validity of some of the more than 75,000 signatures presented by grass roots organizations and public school educators. The groups gathered enough signatures for a statewide vote to potentially overturn legislation that would eventually open access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to all 1.1 million K-12 students in the state.
Signed into law last year, Senate Bill 1431 was challenged by various organizations committed to limiting school choice and preventing public money from being spent on private or faith-based education. Opponents of SB 1431 claim it would siphon money away from public schools.
The Goldwater Institute, a free market and libertarian think tank, was one of the organizations challenging the validity of the signatures before the Supreme Court.
"The court only ruled on whether our side had standing to challenge the validity of the signatures collected, and not on the signatures themselves," Victor Riches, president and chief executive of the Goldwater Insitute, said. "There were literally countless inconsistencies with the collected signatures, and there is a high probability that enough valid signatures were, in fact, never collected."
The Empowerment Scholarship Accounts expansion is on hold ahead of the November vote on the ballot initiative. Voters will either vote no on Proposition 305, which will overturn SB 1431, or yes to allow the legislation to take effect.
Currently, only families with special-needs students and those from poor-performing schools can apply to open an Empowerment Scholarship Account. SB 1431 would allow any family to apply, but cap the number of accounts at 30,000.
"Survey after survey indicates that Arizonans support greater educational opportunities and consider school choice an integral component of our education system," Riches said.
Riches argued that opponents of school choice have much "deeper pockets than the parents and students who benefit from it," and will certainly spend a massive amount of resources at the ballot.
"Even if they’re successful, the current school choice statutes in Arizona will still be in place," he said. "However, these educational opportunities won’t be available to all of our students, and that would be a true shame."
As of March 31, supporters of the ballot initiative, under the auspices of the Save Our Schools Arizona PAC, had spent just under $133,000, according to Ballotpedia. No political action committee has yet to be registered to campaign for a "yes" vote.
"We are grateful to be done with the distraction of their groundless lawsuit," Beth Lewis, founder of Save Our Schools Arizona, said in a statement following the Supreme Court ruling. "We've known all along that our statewide volunteer network of parents, teachers and retirees played by the rules in our effort to protect public education and honor the will of Arizona voters."