Despite strong public resistance, the past legislative session approved Senate Bill (SB) 1431, which was deceptively entitled the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) voucher program. The opponents of SB 1431 knew that it did nothing to empower our public school system. These opponents knew that SB 1431 was a welfare for the rich program to take our tax dollars away from our public schools, and fatten the coffers of the private school system, that 95 percent of Arizona’s children do not attend.
The main financial backers for the proponents of SB 1431 are some well-known plutocrats who do not even live our state. Two of these rich individuals are the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who fund the SB 1431 support organization named the Americans for Prosperity. Another SB 1431 support organization named the American Federation for Children, was organized and financed by out of state billionaire Betsy DeVos.
With this organizational effort by out of state special interest groups, SB 1431 was pushed through the legislature, by dark money friendly state lawmakers such as Sen. Debbie Lesko and Gov. Doug Ducey. But getting SB 1431 written into law, proved to be a different matter. Arizona residents had other ideas.
The Arizona opponents of this bill, organized themselves into an organization named Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS Arizona). After SB 1431 was passed, SOS Arizona announced they would start a referendum petition drive to put SB 1431 on the ballot. On August 8, 2017, SOS Arizona volunteers delivered 111,540 anti-SB 1431 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State Office. Because the SOS Arizona petition needed 75,321 valid signatures, SB 1431 was put on hold.
The political establishment said that it was virtually impossible for a largely “novice” volunteer group to perform this political organizational feat. But the SOS Arizona activists were more organizationally savvy. This dedicated group knew that strategic victory was possible. The SOS Arizona activists had the home field advantage over the wealthy carpetbaggers, and we used it.
In contrast to the out of state plutocrats, SOS Arizona petition volunteers were all Arizona residents. These volunteers were parents or relatives of school children, or anyone else who truly wanted to support the educational system of Arizona’s children. We petitioned relentlessly against SB 1431, under the searing Sonoran desert sun during the Arizona summer heat. After getting what appears to be enough signatures, this popular movement has entered another phase.
The Arizona State Elections Director has concluded more than 108,000 signatures in the SOS Arizona petitions passed the first validation test. However as expected, the well-paid lawyers financed by outside groups are trying to invalidate every voter signature possible for any petty reason. As expected, Arizona residents continue to have other ideas.
SB 1431 is essentially a carpetbagger approved public school voucher giveaway plan for Arizona, which is being further supported by plutocrat backed lawyers who will gladly suppress the voice of any voter, for enough cash. SOS Arizona is currently requesting small donations from Arizona residents to legally fight back against this flagrant attack on our democracy. More information on how to get involved is available at http://saveourschoolsarizona.org and https://www.facebook.com/SaveOurSchoolsArizona. Personally, I donated to this legal defense effort. It was well worth it, and we urge others to do the same.
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