Ruling puts in question plan to charter organization an Arkansas school district; appeal planned

An Arkansas judge ruled Friday that a recently passed education law cannot take effect until Aug. 1, putting in doubt state education officials’ vote to let a charter school organization take over a small school district.

Judge Herbert Wright’s ruling arises from the Legislature’s adoption of the Arkansas LEARNS Act. The law allows any school district that is facing consolidation with another district to instead contract with a charter school or another entity to run its schools.

Wright’s ruling said the law was properly passed by the Legislature and signed into law by by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in March. But he cited video of legislative action in ruling that a provision allowing it to take effect immediately was not properly adopted, meaning the law cannot take effect until Aug. 1.

Under the new law, the state Board of Education recently voted to let the Marvell-Elaine School District enter a three-year “transformation contract” with the nonprofit Friendship Education Foundation. The Washington-based group would operate the 306-student district.

“I will appeal this ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court immediately and will continue to defend the LEARNS Act enthusiastically,” state Attorney General Tim Griffin said in a news release.

Ali Noland, an attorney for those challenging the law, said video records show the provision to make the law immediately effective was not voted on in accordance with the Arkansas Constitution. “As such, 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.