Anti-LEARNS group CAPES believes it has enough signatures after all

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 1,299 views 

A day after saying it had failed to collect enough signatures to qualify its referendum for the ballot, the anti-LEARNS Act group Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES) now says it thinks it qualified.

“It’s a wait and see but we expect the number to be above the needed initial count,” said CAPES Executive Director Steve Grappe.

After an all-out push, the all-volunteer group believed it was still 500 signatures short of the 54,422 it needed to qualify for the ballot when it submitted its signatures to the secretary of state’s office Monday (July 31).

Grappe said the group was 5,800 signatures short when it started the day, and didn’t quite make up the gap.

But in a press release Tuesday (Aug. 1), Grappe said, “With 100 people in and out of the room, we managed to collect, notarize, sort, count, box, and deliver 6,800 signatures within a mere 5 to 6 hours Monday. Yesterday really showcased our team’s incredible efficiency and dedication. Many of us haven’t slept in a couple of days and I know when I do, I’ll see petitions in my sleep after handling and counting tens of thousands.”

Grappe, a rancher from Rose Bud, said in a text that after looking at the numbers past 2 a.m., the group had found discrepancies in its counts, didn’t realize petitioners had turned in multiple packs of petitions, and hadn’t accounted for walkups.

The LEARNS Act is Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ education reform law. It will increase minimum public school teacher salaries to $50,000 while creating “education freedom accounts.” These will give families access to public school funds to pay for private and homeschooling.

In the press release, CAPES called on the Secretary of State’s office to count all the signatures. Chris Powell, a spokesman for the office, said the count had begun Tuesday morning (Aug. 1). He did not know when the count was expected to be completed.

If CAPES reaches that 54,422 number, and 75% come from registered Arkansas voters, it will qualify for an additional 30-day “cure period” to collect more signatures. If it qualifies for the ballot and survives the expected legal challenges, the Arkansas Constitution says the LEARNS Act would be held “in abeyance” until voters would vote on the referendum in November 2024.

An attorney with the Secretary of State’s office who asked not to be named said that would mean that LEARNS would be on hold until that time.

Talk Business & Politics will update this story later today.