School voucher foes hold rally as Ducey visits public school

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Those against Arizona's new school voucher law held a protest outside the public school that Gov. Doug Ducey visited on Thursday. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Those against Arizona's new school voucher law held a protest outside the public school that Gov. Doug Ducey visited on Thursday. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The group called Save Our Schools Arizona has succeeded in at least temporarily blocking the school choice program by filing petition signatures earlier this month. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The group called Save Our Schools Arizona has succeeded in at least temporarily blocking the school choice program by filing petition signatures earlier this month. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Gov. Ducey says the state has embraced school choice and that he wants students and parents to have more options regarding education. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Gov. Ducey says the state has embraced school choice and that he wants students and parents to have more options regarding education. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Members of a grassroots group that opposes Arizona's new school voucher law held a rally outside a public school as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey visited the location amid a growing legal fight over school choice.

The group called Save Our Schools Arizona has succeeded in at least temporarily blocking the school choice program by filing petition signatures earlier this month.

[READ MORE: New Arizona school voucher law on hold for now]

Melinda Merkel Iyer says she attended the rally because she's tired of watching the state Legislature and the governor systematically starve public education.

[RELATED: Arizona anti-voucher referendum poised to make ballot]

"I think it's pretty obvious he's not the education governor he claims to be," said Iyer, a mother of two children who attend that school. "I'm here because I'm tired of watching our Legislature and our governor systematically starve public education."

[READ MORE: Group wants voters to repeal Arizona school voucher bill]

Also at the protest was eighth-grader Ashley Perez, who wants more money to put into public schools.

"Why the fact that we don't have a budget set for all school systems and why were are borrowing from other funds is [sic] a concern to me also," Perez said.

Iyer echoed that sentiment and said the school system has lost $2 billion in funding over the years.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona politics]

The protest came just a day after a lawsuit was filed a lawsuit that said trying to delay the voucher law has put many families' educational futures in limbo. The Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, was part of the lawsuit.

[READ MORE: Lawsuit filed over delay of Arizona's school choice program]

"It's just interesting to me that The Goldwater Institute, the Koch Brothers and [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos' lobbying groups have more interest in their financial bottom line than allowing the people of Arizona to speak on this issue," Iyer said.

They are facing deep-pocketed opposition from conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Goldwater Institute. Americans for Prosperity is funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Technically called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, the Arizona program allows parents to take the state money a local public school would receive to pay for private or religious education. The current average award for non-disabled students is about $5,700.

"What that law will do is another small opportunity for the children that need it to access that choice - and that's what I would like to see," Ducey said.

Ducey says the state has embraced school choice and that he wants students and parents to have more options regarding education.

[READ MORE: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signs school voucher bill]

He visited Arizona School for the Arts on Thursday morning and made his case for school choice.

""What you're witnessing today at the Arizona School for the Arts is a public school This is a public school this is a school of choice where parents from around the state can choose this school," Ducey said. "This is a result because we have embraced choice in the state of Arizona. I would never take away this choice away from these students or their parents."

[RELATED: The fight over funding school vouchers continues in Arizona]

He added school choice won't hurt the general fund. 

Save Our Schools Arizona turned in more than 111,000 signatures. About 75,000 signatures must be valid to block the law until voters can weigh in next year.

The school voucher law extends eligibility to all 1.2 million Arizona students by 2022, but it caps enrollment at about 30,000.

Arizona's 15 county recorders are now reviewing a random 5 percent sample of the 108,224 certified signatures to determine if enough are valid. The high initial certification means they could reject 30 percent of the signatures and the voter referendum would still make the ballot. The measure is temporarily on hold until the process concludes.

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