CHEYENNE — The drive to repeal a new law reducing the powers and duties of Wyoming's superintendent of public instruction fell well short of collecting the number of signatures required to put it on the statewide ballot, the secretary of state's office said Friday.
Led by the Wyoming Constitution Party, the petition drive collected 21,991 signatures — but needed 37,606 signatures from registered voters, state Election Director Peggy Nighswonger said.
Nighswonger said the secretary's office did not check the validity of the signatures collected.
Organizer Jennifer Young said the effort will continue. She decried what she called the state's loss of control of its education system to the federal government, and she noted the long odds for anyone hoping to meet the requirements of Wyoming's restrictive referendum process.
"Our effort is a rallying cry in what could be seen as the first skirmish of a long and arduous struggle to return the great state of Wyoming to the sound principles of limited constitutional government," Young, of Torrington, wrote in a statement issued on the party's website.
In the last 30 years, only one referendum on a new state law succeeded in making the general election ballot. It failed at the polls.
The latest petition was started by people upset when the state Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead enacted a law changing how the state's K-12 education system is run. The biggest shift replaced the statewide elected superintendent as head of the Education Department with a director appointed by the governor.
The change came in the middle of Superintendent Cindy Hill's four-year term. Mead and Hill are both Republicans, and the Legislature is controlled by the GOP.
Hill, who helped carry boxes of petitions into the secretary of state's office on Tuesday, said she was not discouraged by the campaign's failure.
"22,000. Holy cow, that was an amazing effort," she said, noting the 90-day time limit and other obstacles petition circulators faced.
Renny MacKay, spokesman for the governor, said in a statement that Mead commended the referendum effort — and one that, despite disagreement over the law, showed that Wyoming residents and their officials share improving education as a top priority.
Supporters of the new law said Hill's agency was not carrying out tasks needed to bolster education accountability. Hill contends she fulfilled those tasks, even though a legislative liaison report documented many instances where the department failed to do so.
Hill is challenging the constitutionality of the new law in a lawsuit before the state Supreme Court.
The superintendent of public instruction remains one of five elected state officers, one of whom is the governor. The superintendent also remains a member of various state boards and commissions that deal with education and other matters.
Mead has launched an inquiry into how the department was run under Hill and previous superintendents.