CAPES misses signature requirement for Arkansas LEARNS Act referendum

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The group working to put the Arkansas LEARNS Act before voters found out Friday it had not met the signature threshold to place the referendum on the ballot.

An announcement from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office said the group had missed the signature threshold by 978 signatures. The Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, also known as CAPES had until this past Monday to turn in the required 54,442 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office.

A total of 53,675 signatures were certified by the Secretary of State.

Complexities in signature gathering included a change to the Arkansas referendum law signed into law in the last legislative session. The law changed the signature requirement from 15 of the 75 Arkansas counties to require signatures from at least 3% of 50 counties.

CAPES admitted, and Secretary of State John Thurston confirmed, that the group only met the county distribution requirement across 48 counties.

Thurston also cited CAPES’s failure to submit the required affidavit showing the number of signatures and petitions.

The law required all signatures to be turned in within 90 days of the law being signed.

CAPES got a later-than-hoped-for start after the Attorney General’s office rejected its first two submitted referendum questions.

CAPES quoting its executive director Steve Grappe in a statement it issued Friday afternoon holding the AG’s rejection, which it addressed as “roadblocks,” instrumental in the signature shortfall.

“We are confident that if we had the time the Constitution allows, we would have far exceeded the minimum,” Grappe was quoted as saying.

The CAPES statement continued to call out the state’s executive branch.

“The executive branch, under the leadership of Governor Sanders, used the legislative branch and the attorney general’s office to actively bypass the constitutional rights of the citizens of the state of Arkansas to actively participate in direct democracy,” it read. “CAPES will pursue this issue to the fullest extent as allowed by law.”

“As for what is next? CAPES is not done, so stay tuned…,” the statement concluded.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a series of short statements through her communications director on Twitter/X Friday afternoon supporting the Secretary of State’s analysis.

“I ran for Governor & Arkansans elected me on the bold promise to overhaul Arkansas’ education system and break the failed status quo,” she stated. “Arkansas LEARNS is the plan our state needs and voted for overwhelmingly.”

The governor continued, lambasting CAPES.

“Today it’s official: they failed, Arkansas’ students won, & my administration will continue to raise teacher pay, invest in literacy, & empower parents & students through LEARNS,” she stated, then adding, “Self-serving partisan extremists tried to play political games to undermine LEARNS, overturn the will of the voters, and hold our kids back.”