May 10, 2023 - Education

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' LEARNS Act faces legal challenges

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders unveils the Arkansas LEARNS education bill at the state Capitol in February. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Arkansas Legislature's haste to push Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' LEARNS bill through both chambers earlier this year may have put the sweeping omnibus package in legal jeopardy.

Driving the news: A lawsuit was filed Monday alleging that because lawmakers failed to separately vote on and pass the bill's emergency clause the act won't become law until 90 days after the general session adjourns sine die, which it did on May 1.

Why it matters: The complaint claims that since LEARNS isn't technically in effect, the state Board of Education acted unconstitutionally when it authorized a charter school nonprofit to take over management of the Marvell-Elaine School District last week.

  • The "transformation contract" with the Friendship Education Foundation would be allowable under a provision in the LEARNS Act permitting third parties to oversee public schools.

Context: The group filing the complaint, dubbed Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES), is the same collection of parents and educators seeking to overturn the LEARNS Act by statewide referendum in 2024.

  • State Attorney General Tim Griffin rejected CAPES' first attempt on April 24, claiming language in the ballot title was misleading.
  • CAPES resubmitted its proposal for the referendum on April 27.

What they're saying: "We fully expect the Arkansas court system to tell the legislative and executive branches that they aren’t above the law, that [the] constitution says what it says, and that the LEARNS Act isn’t the law yet in Arkansas," Ali Noland, attorney for CAPES, told Axios in an email.

The other side: A spokesperson for Sanders told Axios via email the complaint "has no merit."

What we're watching: In the lawsuit, CAPES is requesting a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to delay implementation of the Marvell-Elaine School District transformation contract until the LEARNS Act becomes law.


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