LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Little Rock organization Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students has taken the first steps to repeal the Arkansas LEARNS Act.
The group filed a statement of organization with the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Monday and submitted its ballot title to the Attorney General’s office.
If approved, the group will have the opportunity to start gathering signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. Petitioners will have to gather signatures from 6% of the total votes cast in the preceding gubernatorial election, which is just above 54,000 for this cycle.
The organization believes that LEARNS will lead to the consolidation of schools throughout the state, and it will cause public education to be poorly funded and eventually privatized.
The group’s website echoes this sentiment, saying “In Arkansas, public education as we know it is on the verge of collapse.”
CAPES Executive Director and Rural Caucus of Arkansas chairman Steve Grappe says that rural communities are most at risk.
“It’s a mess and it’s going to bankrupt a bunch of the rural communities in Arkansas,” said Grappe.
One of the most controversial aspects of the new LEARNS bill is the inclusion of school vouchers, which opponents say will drive students out of public schools and into private ones.
Grappe noted that parts of the bill, including teacher raises and literacy coaches, are good things, but that the good within the bill does not outweigh the bad.
“We don’t feel like the citizens of Arkansas had any voice in this,” Grappe said. “The Republicans had this bill for weeks before the Democrats did, and we got it for less than 48 hours before it went to committee. It’s all rushed.”
The law is categorized as an emergency clause and went into effect as soon as Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed it.
While the law has already been signed, there are still many questions that have been left unanswered.
State officials have said that many details of the law, including where funding will come from, will be worked out throughout the year.