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Public School Activist Leader: Arizona Legislators ‘Maga Extremists’ for School Choice Advocacy

September 21, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

On Sunday, Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) Director Beth Lewis called four Arizona legislators “MAGA extremists,” accusing them of blocking their signature gathering efforts by protesting.

“They are all extremist lawmakers who are Trumpers and MAGA extremists,” said Lewis. “They are out here harassing our volunteers, surrounding 80-year-old women, calling businesses and lying, all to make sure that we don’t get to have signatures by this Friday to stop universal voucher expansion and keep public funding in public schools.”

Lewis erroneously called Arizona’s school choice funds “vouchers.” Those types of funds may only be used at private schools. Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program funds may be used for other educational opportunities, such as tutoring, supplemental curriculum, online learning programs or courses, standardized testing fees, and community college.

One of the accused lawmakers, State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) retorted that peaceful protest doesn’t inhibit democratic signature-gathering. 

“Expressing our beliefs is the foundation of democracy, not interfering with it,” said Ugenti-Rita. “Instead of name-calling, try using substantive and persuasive facts to sell your perspective. Otherwise, you simply come off as a simpleton.”

The three other legislators accused of being MAGA extremists were State Senators Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) and Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff), as well as State Representative Ben Toma (R-Peoria). 

SOSAZ is attempting to gather enough signatures for their 2024 ballot initiative to overturn Arizona’s universal school choice: “Stop Voucher Expansion.” As AZ Free News reported earlier this month, SOSAZ signature gatherers were giving false information to potential signers. 

Lewis didn’t deny that false information was given to signature gatherers. Instead, she took issue that someone had recorded the SOSAZ activists secretly. 

Several days after the SOSAZ activists’ remarks were leaked, Lewis issued an opinion piece in the Arizona Mirror to denounce universal school choice. Lewis called school choice a “grift” and “massive cash grab” by private schools, pushing one of the contested claims of her organization’s signature gatherers that the ESA Program lacks oversight.

“Universal vouchers mean the end of public education as we know it in Arizona,” stated Lewis.

If any lack of oversight exists, that would be because of Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman. The superintendent is a vocal opponent of the ESA Program and supporter of the SOSAZ ballot initiative. Hoffman graduated from an Oregon private school.

When signing the SOSAZ ballot initiative, Hoffman claimed that the ESA Program she oversees has “zero accountability.”

The ESA Program universalization takes effect on September 24.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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