Arkansas Supreme Court denies motion to stop LEARNS Act restraining order

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,769 views 

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday (June 2) denied a motion to block a temporary restraining order against the LEARNS Act, but has granted an expedited hearing requiring the parties to provide supporting documents early next week.

On Friday (May 26), Pulaski County Judge Herb Wright issued a temporary restraining order on Gov. Sarah Sanders’ signature education law claiming the plaintiffs – led by a group of Marvell-Elaine School District parents – had merit to question the emergency clause vote that put the law in effect immediately. The TRO pauses a move by the state to enter into a “transformation contract” between Marvell-Elaine and charter school operator Friendship Education Foundation.

The plaintiffs argued both chambers of the General Assembly did not hold separate votes on the bill and the emergency clause. They contend the state constitution calls for separate votes, citing Article 5, Section 1, which says the chambers “shall vote upon separate roll call” and “state the fact which constitutes such emergency.”

In his ruling, Judge Wright said, “The word ‘separate’ cannot mean ‘the same.’ In order to pass a valid and enforceable emergency clause, the Arkansas General Assembly was required by Article 5, Section 1 to hold a separate roll-call vote, and they failed to do so.”

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin on May 30 asked the Supreme Court to block the restraining order.

Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Justices Karen Baker, Courtney Hudson and Robin Wynne voted to deny Griffin’s request for a stay on Judge Wright’s order. Justices Barbara Webb, Shawn Womack and Rhonda Wood voted to support Griffin’s request.

“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. 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,” Ali Noland, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics after the Supreme Court’s decision.

“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. I thank the Attorney General for continuing to defend the LEARNS Act and look forward to the Supreme Court deciding the entire case next week,” Gov. Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

“I am disappointed that the Arkansas Supreme Court declined to immediately block the circuit court’s order. But I’m pleased that the Court has accelerated the briefing on this matter, so that it can decide this entire case next week,” said Attorney General Tim Griffin. “I am more passionate than ever in my commitment to defend the LEARNS Act. It represents the best chance for our children’s education in more than a generation, was supported by an overwhelming supermajority of the people’s elected representatives and was passed in accordance with the Arkansas Constitution.”

Friday’s ruling also requires the state and the defendants – those supporting Judge Wright’s decision – to submit briefs by 9 a.m., June 6, and reply briefs by 9 a.m., June 7.

The LEARNS Act is Gov. Sarah Sanders’ signature education legislation that, among many other provisions, creates “education freedom accounts” giving families access to about $7,000 for non-public school options that otherwise would have gone to the public schools where their children would have attended. It also increases the minimum teacher salary from $36,000 to $50,000 and provides every teacher a $2,000 raise.