© 2024 KASU
Your Connection to Music, News, Arts and Views for Over 65 Years
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
These are stories related to the 2024 election.

Public education ballot group continues signature collection

The 11th grade social studies classroom of Megan Prettyman at Little Rock West High School of Innovation.
Megan Prettyman
The 11th grade social studies classroom of Megan Prettyman at Little Rock West High School of Innovation.

For AR Kids says they are almost halfway to collecting the amount of signatures they need to put their proposal on the ballot.

It's called the “The Arkansas Educational Rights Amendment of 2024.” The proposal comes after the passage of Arkansas LEARNS last year, which allows for public tax money to go to private schools through a voucher program. The amendment would add requirements for private schools accepting tax money. The group says this will equalize education in Arkansas, though they are short on funding.

To get their proposal on the ballot, For AR Kids needs more than 90,000 signatures from over 50 counties, with a deadline of July 5. Group leaders say they will have to collect 1,000 signatures a day for the next 45 days. For AR Kids says they have more than 1,000 volunteers collecting signatures.

“We’re having signing events across the state,” organizer Steve Grappe said Tuesday. “We are collecting signatures in all 75 counties, and we believe we’re nearing the halfway point.”

He said there were people working as “guideposts” in 68 counties to report numbers.

Grappe previously led the failed effort to altogether overturn Arkansas LEARNS. The repeal group was known as CAPES, or Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students. In July of last year, they fell less than 500 signatures short from getting their proposal on the ballot. Grappe says the task of collecting signatures is “daunting.”


The current proposed amendment adds provisions to what is already in LEARNS. It does not eliminate current school voucher programs, and instead requires private schools which receive state tax dollars to have the “same academic standards, standards for accreditation, or assessment requirements as public schools.”

“That's going to mean minimum quality curriculum,” Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel said. “It's going to mean certified teachers.”

He says private schools won't have to follow the new rules if they don't take public funding.

April Reisma, president of the Arkansas Education Association, says the LEARNS Act requires students at private schools getting tax money to take a test, but it doesn't have to be the same test as the ones the public schools take.

“It's impossible to compare and show how students have grown if you're not using the same assessments.”

The amendment would also enshrine in the state constitution a judge's ruling in a case called Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee. The case set standards for local public school funding matrices.

The third provision in the amendment would require the state to provide four services to students in private schools receiving public money. They would be required to offer students special education, after school programs, services for lower income students, and pre-K programs. Reisma said they picked these four services because they were “proven.’

“They are the most driven education reforms that we all know of, and investing in them is the only way that the state of Arkansas will get off the national floor,” she said.

The group did not have the numbers on how much these programs would cost the state, suggesting the money could come from Arkansas’ budget surplus. Kopsky said these programs ultimately pay for themselves.

“Pre-k has a return investment of nine to one,” he said. “Special education and after school have a return on investment, I've seen some studies that say four to one.”

Kopsky said the group did a poll showing that over 70% of Arkansans support the proposal.


Opposing the amendment is a group called Arkansans for Students and Educators, which is massively out-fundraising For AR Kids. Their last fillings showed the group has raised over $600,000.

$100,000 of this money came from a group called Stronger Arkansas. The organization was formed back in March to oppose several ballot amendments being pushed across the state. The group is led up by Cathy Lanier and Chris Caldwell who have worked for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. One of the donations comes from billionaire Walmart heir Jim Walton for $500,000.

Meanwhile, For Our Kids has raised a little over $4,500 after a couple of small-dollar donations.

“We don't have enough money,” Kopsky said. “Not even close, but we do have enough money to get through the signature phase and through the legal challenge phase.”

Organizer Steve Grappe said they made a “conscious decision” to hold off on fundraising. He felt bad asking people for donations until signatures were collected.

“We are asking volunteers to spend their time, their own energy, their own resources within the community to do this as a volunteer,” he said.

Several other ballot measures will also have 45 days to meet the deadline. A proposal to enshrine FOIA in the state constitution, legalize abortion and eliminate the tax on female hygiene products also have until July 5 to collect all their signatures.

Copyright 2024 KUAR

Josie Lenora is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News at Little Rock Public Radio. She has listened to KUAR and NPR since she was a young child growing up in Little Rock and says she is thrilled to give back to an organization she loves. Josie was previously an intern in the fall of 2021 assisting in production, then spent another semester with the station interning in the newsroom in the spring of 2022.