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Save Our Schools Arizona fails to gather enough signatures for school voucher bill

An effort to send Arizona’s massive new school voucher expansion to voters has fallen short.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said in a tweet Friday morning that the petition from Save our Schools Arizona would not meet the minimum requirement of 118,823 signatures.

At a protest at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey called on Hobbs to expedite the count.

→  Arizona families have an extra 15 days to apply for school vouchers

“It's time to put these parents first. Arizona is going to be a state that funds students, not systems," he said.

On Oct. 23, Save Our Schools estimated that they had turned in 141,714 signatures. The Goldwater Institute, which supports the voucher expansion, quickly called that number into question.

Hobbs previously tweeted that under state law, her office has a 20-day signature review period. Within a week, they had surveyed enough to know the petition would fall short.

Save Our Schools Arizona Director Beth Lewis said the group is devastated.

“There are folks who’ve come to me and said ‘Gosh, I wish I would’ve done more.’ I don’t think anybody should blame themselves, but more organizations could’ve stepped up and we’re hoping for the next battle, more people will fight the fight.”

She also said they overestimated the number of petitions.

“We had people driving down from Navajo Nation at midnight and driving up from Tucson at 3 [o'clock] in the morning and shoving petitions in boxes like at the Capitol when we were turning in. And unfortunately that just led to miscounts that we can’t recover from.”

Lewis told KJZZ’s The Show that Ducey hindered her group’s effort to collect signatures.

“Gov. Ducey waited 10 days to sign the bill, deliberately taking 10 days out of our field,” Lewis said. “If you’ve ever been part of a referendum, that’s a massive amount of time and really prevented a lot of voters from getting to have their voices heard.”

The new law makes all Arizona students eligible for up to $7,000 per year to use for private school or homeschooling. An estimated 60,000 private students and about 38,000 being homeschooled immediately became eligible in September.

Some of those students already received vouchers, and many get money from groups like School Tuition Organizations that funnel tax credits to students.

This is not the first time Save Our Schools has led a citizens’ referendum. The group formed in 2017 specifically to refer another voucher expansion bill to the ballot.

The last referendum was a success — voters rejected the smaller voucher expansion 2-1.

In response to Hobbs’ announcement, Gov. Ducey simply tweeted a link with the words, “ Let’s roll!”

More stories from KJZZ

Tim Agne joined KJZZ as a digital editor in 2019. Prior to joining KJZZ, Agne worked as an online producer for azcentral.com and mlive.com. He also taught multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.