Arkansas group drops effort to put higher student funding, teacher pay raises on November ballot

A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.
A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

Arkansans for World Class Education will drop its push for the Public Schools Amendment of 2022, chairwoman Julia Taylor said Wednesday.

The group's proposed amendment, which it aimed to put on the November ballot, would have required the state Legislature to appropriate an additional $400 per student per year for five consecutive years for each public school, in addition to normal funding sources and appropriations. It also would have required the state, starting July 1, 2023, to compensate full-time classroom teachers with at least a 5% salary increase for the next four years.

To place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, a group must collect at least 89,151 valid signatures of registered voters, or equal to 10% of the votes cast for governor in the 2018 general election, by July 8.

In a written statement Wednesday, Taylor said the group had gathered fewer than 25% of the signatures it needed.

"We currently have less than a quarter of the signatures needed, and not enough canvassers to make up the difference within the month," she said. "We are thankful for our supporters and volunteers, and look forward to continuing to work for fully funded public schools in Arkansas."

Since filing its initial paperwork with the Arkansas Ethics Commission in October, Arkansans for World Class Education reported raising about $22,000, mainly from small contributions, and spending about $2,000.

The group is not the first to drop its effort to put a measure on the 2022 ballot. Medical marijuana patient advocate Melissa Fults shelved her recreational cannabis amendment petition for 2024 to focus her efforts on advocating against the industry-backed Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment.

A spokeswoman for another recreational marijuana effort, Arkansas True Grass, previously told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that group would likely do the same.

David Couch, a Little Rock attorney who has been involved with several ballot initiative efforts, said in an interview earlier this month that two laws the state passed in 2021, which prohibit paying petitioners by signature and hiring out-of-state residents to canvass, have created a tougher environment for ballot initiatives and increased the cost of those efforts.

Officers with Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group backing the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, and Fair Play Arkansas, a group backing a proposed amendment to remove Pope County as a location for a casino in the state, previously expressed confidence they would be able to gather the required number of signatures.

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