LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A decision in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Friday maintains that the Arkansas LEARNS Act will not go into effect before Aug. 1, very close to the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
In his ruling, Judge Herbert Wright ruled that because the legislature did not hold a separate roll-call vote for the act’s emergency clause, the act did not go into immediate effect as intended.
The Aug. 1 start is when laws passed in the most recent state legislative session go into effect when no emergency clause is in effect.
The lawsuit to delay LEARNS Act was brought by a group that included staff and teachers of the Marvell-Elaine School District along with Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Schools, known by its acronym CAPES.
The state had begun a process of contracting with an outside company to run the distressed Marvell-Elaine school. The school did not renew its contracts with teachers and staff due to this planned take-over.
The Friday ruling would put the Marvell-Elaine contract on hold. It is unclear how the Pulaski court ruling will impact the troubled school district.
Historically, the legislature has passed multiple bills with emergency clauses included but did not take separate votes on those clauses.
The Arkansas Constitution specifies a separate vote for an emergency clause, but the legislature has long used a process where the vote on a bill and on the clause are held at the same time.
The state supreme court had ruled in a split decision on June 20 that the legislature had acted appropriately in its dual-vote process and lifted a temporary restraining order on the act’s implementation.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for who the LEARNS Act was central to her campaign and legislative agenda, was disappointed with the Friday ruling.
“This politically motivated lawsuit is absurd and those responsible should be ashamed of themselves for trying to hurt our kids’ futures,” the governor stated. “We will continue to implement LEARNS raising teacher pay, empowering parents, and expanding literacy programs. The Attorney General will immediately appeal this ruling.”
Attorney General Tim Griffin stated his office would appeal the Friday ruling.
“I will appeal this ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court immediately and will continue to defend the LEARNS Act enthusiastically,” he stated.
Griffin’s office had brought the temporary restraining order before the supreme court, leading to its June ruling.
Ali Noland, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the case was not complicated and official video shows the legislature did not case a separate vote for the emergency clause.
“Judge Wright correctly ruled today that the LEARNS Act is not yet law, and the State Board of Education lacked authority to enter into the ‘transformation contract’ handing over management of the Marvell-Elaine School District to a charter-school management company and terminating the district’s teachers and staff,” she said.
Noland added that she expected Griffin’s office to place an immediate halt on LEARNS Act implementation.
CAPES external communications director Nancy Fancyboy stated that lawmakers’ failure to hold a separate emergency clause vote put an “undue burden” on Arkansas citizens.
“Their failure caused us, the citizens, to have no time to hold the LEARNS Act in abeyance by the utilization of the veto referendum process, which is to petition to put a law passed by the legislature onto an election-wide ballot for the people to decide,” she stated.
On Wednesday the state’s Department of Education put out a statement headlined “LEARNS Act implementation fully under way.”