Since the passage of the historic LEARNS Act earlier this year, opponents of the commonsense education law have been working overtime to create chaos and confusion.
This multi-pronged campaign against LEARNS and education freedom has included a frivolous lawsuit (which was just recently dismissed in a landslide decision from the Arkansas Supreme Court) and a failed attempt to put the law on pause until November 2024, when voters would weigh in at the ballot box.
Leaders of the petition effort – local Democrats who called themselves “Arkansas Citizens for Public Education and Students,” or CAPES – repeatedly told the public that their movement was not only “statewide” but also nonpartisan or, at a minimum, bipartisan. These claims have been stated repeatedly and with authority. Anyone who questions them has been ridiculed and even called a liar, in some cases.
It’s not entirely clear why CAPES was so adamant that their work was bipartisan – aside from the obvious fact that Arkansas has continued to trend more and more red, and CAPES knows their only chance to spur any changes to LEARNS would require significant buy-in from conservatives in the legislature and the general public.
(In other words, they’re trying to spook Republican policymakers, who control nearly all of state government, into believing they face electoral backlash for their support of education reform.)
But the bad news for CAPES, and the good news for the rest of Arkansas, is that even a cursory review of the LEARNS petition signatures reveals that a disproportionate number of signatures came from deep blue areas of the state.
And now, a much deeper dive into the signatures themselves, published here for the first time, reveals that CAPES’s failed petition effort was deeply, unequivocally partisan.
"CAPES" spent months trying to convince the public that their effort was widespread and transcended partisan divides.
For example, a quick read of their website suggests they are a broad coalition of concerned citizens from across the political spectrum. Indeed, CAPES claims to be a “broad, nonpartisan movement of public school advocates.”
The CAPES chair stated in a local media interview that “The mission is, we are a bipartisan, nonpartisan group of volunteers around the state.”
Other CAPES sympathizers have used the same terminology: “For AR People,” a left-wing non-profit, calls CAPES “a bipartisan organization that remains deeply concerned about [LEARNS’S] effect on public education.”
And others have even written desperate defenses of CAPES in the wake of massive opposition, claiming “It’s much easier to try to convince Joe Arkansan that the opposition is just a few loud Democrats in a few counties than a bipartisan coalition of Arkansans from across the state.”
Quite clearly, CAPES and their apologists want Arkansans to believe they reflect a broad spectrum from all political viewpoints who are just down-right furious about the LEARNS Act.
But here’s the truth: CAPES is a blatantly, self-admitted partisan organization and their intentions are to destroy a truly bipartisan movement that favors education freedom – one that we now know with certainty is helping thousands of Arkansas kids with disabilities pay for a quality education.
One need only look at the comments of the CAPES organizers themselves to quickly see the true nature and aims of the organization.
For example, in an embarrassing moment, AR CAPES Executive Director Steve Grappe admitted the following in the statewide newspaper:
“You know what that means for us Democrats. I know where all the people are and I have 50,000 signatures—by the end of this at least maybe [55,000], and we know where the people that are on our side are.”
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette described this brazen partisanship as an admitted “boost for the state’s Democratic Party, collecting a long list of potential voters.”
Grappe, it turns out, is also the Arkansas Democrat Party’s Rural Caucus Chair, which certainly comes as a tremendous surprise, given how nonpartisan CAPES is supposed to be!
But perhaps Grappe and his cohorts ultimately deserve points for honesty–because their petition signature distribution makes it abundantly clear that they targeted Democrat strongholds in their failed effort.
Despite CAPES’s repeated and loud claims, even a casual observer can glance at their signature distribution and see where the vast majority of their support came from. Unsurprisingly (or perhaps surprisingly, if CAPES is to be believed), their efforts quite obviously over-focused on parts of the state that leaned Left.
Nearly 40 percent of CAPES signatures came from just two counties – Pulaski and Washington. These are two of the bluest counties in all of Arkansas, amongst counties of sizable populations (counties with more than 100,000 residents).
That’s about as blue as it gets in Arkansas.
Meanwhile, how much did CAPES target Republican strongholds? They were either underrepresented (Benton) or mostly in line with the proportion of registered voters (Faulkner, Garland).
Some on the Left have called these numbers “lies,” but they clearly speak for themselves: Pulaski and Washington counties alone comprise nearly 40 percent of CAPES signatures but contain just slightly more than 20 percent of the voting population.
Clearly, CAPES activists targeted counties they knew to be Democratic.
Sure, they may have trickled in some low-population red counties to save face (and because a new law required them to do so). But that doesn’t change the fact that they were most heavily invested in bright blue areas. The proof is in the numbers.
(For what it’s worth, more than half of all CAPES signatures came from just five counties, which also undercuts the groups’ claims that their work represented a “statewide movement.”)
But maybe it’s all a coincidence, right? Perhaps CAPES gathered a proportionate share of GOP, independent, and Democrat voters from these highly-Democrat-populated areas?
Unfortunately, this is also not the case.
Original research and analysis from Opportunity Arkansas (OA), published here for the first time, also confirms what much of the public already suspected: CAPES signatures included a disproportionately high number of Democrat voters.
OA obtained a copy of every single petition sheet and signature gathered by CAPES to repeal The LEARNS Act – more than 54,000 individual signatures – and conducted a random audit.
Put simply, a random selection of signatures proportional to each county’s share of signatures were reviewed and crosschecked with party affiliation data from the Arkansas voter file.
Here’s what the audit uncovered:
In Arkansas, most (nearly 90 percent) voters are unaffiliated with either major political party. Fewer than one in twenty voters are registered Democrats. But, low and behold, CAPES signers who were randomly selected as part of our audit were significantly more likely to be registered Democrats.
In fact, CAPES signers were 2.3 times more likely to be registered as Democrat voters than their share of the general voting population would suggest (4.3 percent in general voter population vs. 11.7 percent amongst CAPES signers).
Additionally – and equally unsurprisingly – CAPES signers were significantly less likely to be registered Republican voters than the general voting population might suggest.
In the general voting population, Republicans make up 7.3 percent of voters. However, just 4.3 percent of CAPES signers were Republicans, well below the proportion of all Arkansas voters who identify as Republican.
And in some counties, Republicans were even more underrepresented. For example, in the random review of 117 signatures from Pulaski County, just *two* were from Republicans. The same is true with Washington County: of the 86 signatures reviewed there, just two were from Republicans. While these counties may be blue, they’re not that blue.
As noted, most Arkansas voters are unaffiliated with any major political party. But if we exclude those voters and zoom in on party-affiliated voters statewide, the partisan breakdown is roughly 60 percent Republican compared to 40 percent Democrat. And if the CAPES effort was truly bipartisan – or even nonpartisan – we would expect to see proportions that are roughly in line with this divide, 60/40.
But in reality, the split of partisan-affiliated voters amongst CAPES signers was almost the exact opposite, coming in at nearly three to one Democrat signatures (73 percent Democrat, 27 percent Republican).
And in the most liberal counties, when looking at only partisan-affiliated voters, the trends were even more blatantly partisan.
Recall CAPES’s interest in liberal-dominated Pulaski County? Well, there are about twice as many Democrats in Pulaski County as there are Republicans. But in the audit of CAPES signatures from Pulaski County, there are *ten times* as many Democrat signers as Republicans. So not only did CAPES over-target Pulaski County generally, but the signatures they gathered from there were five times more likely to be Democrat voters than the voter file would suggest.
Put simply, the CAPES signers were disproportionately Democrats relative to the overall makeup of Arkansas’s voting population, while Republicans were severely underrepresented.
Why? Because the effort to repeal the LEARNS Act was a partisan pipe dream — not a bipartisan “statewide movement.”
Not only did CAPES organizers mislead the public about their alleged “nonpartisan” nature, they’re overtly partisan in the worst possible way: they’re partisan about our kids’ futures.
Their laundry list of misleading claims and outright lies has been paired with a brazenly partisan effort to target as many Democrat voters as they can to repeal a groundbreaking law that has expanded educational freedom, boosted teacher pay, strengthened school safety, and much more.
The effort to repeal LEARNS wasn’t about protecting schools or students or even teachers. It was about a group of Democrat Party activists collecting signatures from other Democrats to set back education in Arkansas under the false shroud of “bipartisanship.” From the very beginning, the true intentions of this partisan political operation have been to play politics with the education of Arkansas’s youth. And now, the data proves it.
What is bipartisan, however, is support for education freedom: in fact, Opportunity Arkansas polling show that nearly half of independent Arkansas voters and close to a third of Democrats support education freedom. And nearly 60% of Arkansas parents support it, across the political spectrum. Support increases even more once they fully understand the program and all of its benefits for Arkansas families.
And as more Arkansas families experience the benefits that education freedom brings, support will only increase.
*Methodology: How Opportunity Arkansas conducted its random audit of CAPES signatures
Opportunity Arkansas gathered information on the number of CAPES signatures collected by county. We then gathered every single signature and petition form from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office.
To conduct an audit, we decided to review 1 percent of all signatures (equal to just over 530 signatures) in a completely random fashion. First, we set targets for each county by multiplying the number of signatures by county x 1 percent, rounded to the nearest whole number. (For example, for Pulaski County, we targeted a review of 117 signatures, which is roughly equal to 1 percent of the 11,664 signatures collected from Pulaski County.)
The signatures from our 1 percent sample were audited according to the exact same proportions as each county’s share of the total signatures collected. For example, since Pulaski County accounted for 21.7% of the total signatures collected, it also accounted for 21.7% of the signatures in our audit.
We randomized the nature of the audit in a simple yet effective fashion: we simply took the first “X” number of signatures from each county’s petitions, where “X” is equal to the number of signatures reviewed for each county. So, for Pulaski County, we looked at the first 117 signatures (assuming they were legible; illegible signatures were ignored). Since there is no reason to believe that the order in which signatures were gathered denoted any partisanship, this effectively serves as a de facto random sample.
Once we had these signatures gathered, we took the individuals’ full names, counties of residence, and dates of birth to match them in the Arkansas Voter File, which we also received from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office. After making a successful match, we were able to identify each signing voter’s political party registration. We used this information to arrive at our conclusions pertaining to the partisan affiliation of CAPES signatories.