Secretary of State Katie Hobbs Holds School Choice Funds Hostage

September 28, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs chose to stall on the invalidation of a ballot initiative attempting to kill school choice, despite it not having the required number of signatures.

School choice advocates gathered outside of the State Capitol on Wednesday to protest Hobbs’ inaction. Hobbs told frustrated parents that her office would wait out the entire 20-day period offered by state law to verify the Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) ballot initiative signatures. 

Governor Doug Ducey spoke at the rally, telling Hobbs to expedite her signature verification. He also directed Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman to take charge and free the universal school choice funds.

“Arizona is going to be a state that funds students, not systems,” said Ducey. 

One Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program mother, Christine Accurso, pleaded with the media to question Hobbs’ choice. Accurso led “Decline to Sign,” the countermovement to SOSAZ’s ballot initiative.

“Help us parents of Arizona. Ask Katie Hobbs why they won’t release this,” said Accurso.

Accurso added that if a group of four moms was able to verify the signature number total in a matter of days, it shouldn’t take the secretary of state’s office nearly a month to do the same. 

According to earlier reporting from this week, pro-ESA Program parents, organizations such as the American Federation for Children, and various reporters reviewed the SOSAZ signature sheets and found them far short of the claimed totals. However, Hobbs and her office took SOSAZ’s signature total claim at their word.

“Conservative Circus” radio host James Harris also spoke at the rally. He declared that Hobbs’ Republican gubernatorial opponent, Kari Lake, wouldn’t stand in the way of school choice funds for parents the way he said that Hobbs did this week. 

“We don’t need more obstacles. We need liberty and we need freedom,” said Harris. 

AZ Free News reached out to Hobbs’ office on Tuesday for clarification about whether their decision to accept SOSAZ’s word for their petition signature count without verification was protocol. They haven’t responded.

We also reached out to SOSAZ Director Beth Lewis; she didn’t respond to our questions, either.

Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) sent a letter to Hobbs on Wednesday, informing the secretary of state that anything less than an immediate rejection of the SOSAZ ballot initiative would make Hobbs complicit in misreporting and interfering with the law. 

“As our country enters into a recession, we know that every dollar is valuable to lives and livelihoods,” said Fann. 

While awaiting response from Hobbs’ office, AZ Free News posed the same question to former Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Though he said he was shocked by Hobbs’ handling of the ballot initiative, he said that Hobbs’ actions weren’t in violation of any laws. Bennett explained that Hobbs’ handling of this recent initiative didn’t align with the precedent of her predecessors, including his administration. 

“We just felt the integrity of the whole process was worth at least a verification of the number of sheets and the purported number of signatures on those sheets when they first turned them in when I was there,” said Bennett. “Each secretary can decide how they want to do it, but my administration felt that we at least owed the public the fact that we checked the signatures per sheet. At least we would add the total sheets and total signatures up, so we weren’t getting somebody a false receipt of what we had received from them.”

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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