Arkansas attorney general rejects LEARNS Act referendum title

By: - April 24, 2023 2:34 pm
Little Rock Central High School students protesting on the Arkansas Capitol steps

Little Rock Central High School students met on the Capitol steps on March 8, 2023 to express their opposition to the Arkansas LEARNS bill, which was signed into law earlier that day by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

This story was updated at 4:25 p.m.

Attorney General Tim Griffin on Monday rejected the ballot title submitted by a group pursuing a petition referendum to overturn the LEARNS Act, the expansive education law signed into law by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in March. 

The Arkansas Constitution allows citizens to, by petition, order the referendum against an Act, item of appropriation bill or measure passed by the General Assembly.

Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES) launched the repeal process on April 10 when the group filed a Statement of Organization with the Arkansas Ethics Commission and submitted a ballot title to the Attorney General’s office.

Attorney General Tim Griffin took office in January.
(John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Under the new Act 194, initiative and referendum petitions must be submitted for approval to the attorney general instead of the secretary of state. Monday was the deadline for Griffin to approve the ballot title or substitute “a more suitable and correct” one, according to the new law, which allocates 10 ten business days to render a decision.

According to a six-page opinion approved by Griffin, the AG’s office rejected the ballot title and instructed CAPES to redesign it because it’s “misleading.” Additional issues include insufficient, inaccurate and missing summaries, as well as “confusing lead-in language.”

“I have determined that the popular name and ballot title failed to explain the impact of a vote for or against the measure and failed to adequately summarize the LEARNS Act. Therefore, the proposal failed to meet legal standards and cannot be certified,” Griffin said in a statement.

CAPES executive director Steve Grappe said he’s not surprised by Griffin’s decision.

“We were expecting it, which, if he was going to reject it, I don’t understand why he had to sit on it for the full 10 days before he rejected it,” Grappe said. “Sounds like political gamesmanship.”

The group will continue working to get the referendum on the ballot in 2024, he said.

“We’re going to go back to the drawing board, and we are going to try to rectify what he says is the reason why it was rejected and get it submitted as quickly as possible,” Grappe said. “And we would hope that the attorney general, which is the attorney for the people, will get that turned around and back to us as quickly as possible.”

2023-023 CAPES Ballot opinion


If the ballot title is eventually approved, petitioners must then gather signatures from 6% percent of the total votes cast for governor in the preceding general election. According to the Secretary of State’s office, 907,037 votes were cast for governor in 2022, so petitioners would need to gather 54,422 signatures.

Signatures must be collected from 50 counties, up from 15 counties. Act 236 of 2023 increased that number and requires that petitions “bear the signature of at least one-half of the designated percentage of the electors of each county.” 

Republican Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest and the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit three days after the bill was signed into law in March, arguing it’s unconstitutional.

The deadline for filing a referendum petition with the requisite number of signatures is 90 days after the final adjournment of the session in which the referred Act was passed.

The 94th General Assembly concluded its work April 7 and is scheduled to adjourn sine die on May 1.


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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.