LITTLE ROCK -- The Arkansas Board of Education improperly voted to let a nonprofit charter school organization manage a school district because a new law allowing such contracts has not yet taken effect, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by a some parents and a public education advocacy group.
The suit challenges the Arkansas LEARNS Act that Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed into law in March. 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.
The state Board of Education voted Friday 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.
The lawsuit challenging the contract was filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court by some Marvell-Elaine School District parents and Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students. It centers on whether lawmakers needed to approve a separate emergency clause when they passed the LEARNS Act, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported. Under the Arkansas Constitution, laws passed by the General Assembly take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.
With a two-thirds vote, lawmakers can approve an "emergency clause" allowing a law to take effect immediately. Plaintiffs argued that since lawmakers did not take a separate vote on an emergency clause for the LEARNS Act, the law is not yet active.
"The LEARNS Act was rushed through the Legislature, and the emergency clause in the bill wasn't passed correctly," plaintiffs' attorney Ali Noland told KARK-TV. "It's simply invalid under the plain language of the Arkansas Constitution."
Alexa Henning, a spokesperson for Sanders, called the lawsuit meritless, saying legislators followed the same procedures they have followed for decades.
"Democrats and liberal activists in this state are playing politics with kids' futures while trying to protect the failed status quo," Henning said.