Grappe out as executive director of group he co-founded to opposed passage of LEARNS Act

Steve Grappe, executive director of Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, speaks during the For AR Kids press conference Thursday at the state Capitol in Little Rock.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Steve Grappe, executive director of Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, speaks during the For AR Kids press conference Thursday at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)


Political activist Steve Grappe has stepped down as the executive director of CAPES, the group he co-founded to take on efforts to pass the LEARNS Act.

Grappe, chair of the Democratic Party of Arkansas' Rural Caucus, helped form CAPES as part of an effort to put Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' signature education law to a referendum, but the group came up just short of the signature requirement.

Grappe will be replaced by fellow co-founder and chairperson Veronica McClane. McClane did not return a request for comment Monday.

Grappe said the decision to leave CAPES, which stands for Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, was over differences with its leadership, citing the slow pace at which the group is trying to reclassify itself as a 501c3, a federally tax exempt organization.

"There's been delay after delay after delay and I have to focus on the future and quit dwelling on the past," Grappe told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

CAPES is classified as a ballot question committee, a political organization dedicated to campaigning for a specific direct democracy issue. After the group's original mission to put the LEARNS Act to a referendum failed, it needed to quickly transition, Grappe said.

"My biggest concern was we have been trying to write bylaws to move this into a viable 501c3 since last October and the small advisory group can't agree to even move forward," Grappe said.

CAPES announced Grappe's departure in a news release Monday, crediting Grappe with the group's "development of the CAPES field organization."

"I think maybe we weren't moving fast enough for him," Nancy Fancyboy, CAPES' external communications director, said in an interview.

CAPES was formed in reaction to the LEARNS Act, a law that many of the activists who went on to form the organization saw as an attack on public education in Arkansas. Most notably, the law includes a provision for universal school choice, allowing students to use most of what the state spends in per-pupil funding to cover the costs of attending a private or home school.

After a 56-day petition campaign, CAPES came up 978 signatures short of the 54,422 it needed for its referendum to make the ballot.

Most recently, CAPES has been part of a constitutional amendment campaign to reform education in Arkansas by requiring private schools that accept taxpayer funds to follow the same state regulations as public schools.


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