LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The lawsuit against Arkansas LEARNS remains in place after a state Supreme Court decision Friday afternoon.
The decision, made a week ago by a circuit court judge, freezes the state’s efforts to allow a charter school company to take over the Marvell-Elaine school district and other LEARNS Act provisions.
At issue is the legislative emergency clause during the passage of the LEARNS Act, which would put the new law into effect immediately. The opponents of the act who filed the suit argued that the legislature did not make its separate vote required by the state constitution to add an emergency clause, which would have put the law into effect immediately.
The state argued that the legislature routinely votes on an act and an emergency clause in the same vote.
Without the emergency clause, the LEARNS Act would not go into effect until Aug. 1, like other laws passed in the last legislative session without an emergency clause.
The Supreme Court has agreed to expedite a hearing on the case. The court has asked both sides to have their briefings in by 9 a.m. June 6, and replies to opposing briefs by 9 a.m. June 7. The court has also asked both sides to clarify if the lawsuit is a political question that would violate the separation of powers and sovereign rules.
Attorney Ali Noland, who filed the opposition to the suit, was pleased with the Friday decision.
“The plaintiffs are heartened that the Supreme Court has rejected the State’s bad-faith argument that the legislature should be free to violate the Arkansas Constitution,” she stated. “We look forward to briefing the additional legal issues requested by the court, and we are grateful that the Arkansas judiciary is still strongly committed to upholding the rule of law.”
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the entire lawsuit “absurd” in a social media post Friday afternoon, saying that a delay in enacting the law would block parts of the plan including increases in teacher pay and new training programs for school safety.
“This lawsuit is absurd. By playing political games with our kids’ futures, the radical left is halting teacher pay raises, school safety trainings, literacy coach hiring, and our new maternity leave program — sowing unnecessary turmoil in schools,” Sanders tweeted. “I thank the Attorney General for continuing to defend the LEARNS Act and look forward to the Supreme Court deciding this case next week.”
In a statement, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin expressed both disappointment and pleasure with the Friday decision.
“I am disappointed that the Arkansas Supreme Court declined to immediately block the circuit court’s order,” he said. “But I’m pleased that the Court has accelerated the briefing on this matter, so that it can decide this entire case next week.”
The LEARNS Act was a cornerstone of the legislative agenda for Sanders and was easily passed by a legislative Republican super-majority. It includes provisions for enlarging school vouchers and raising teacher pay.