LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas circuit court judge has granted a temporary restraining order blocking the takeover of a school district by a charter school company, citing uncertainty that the new state law behind the plan is yet in effect.
Judge Herbert Wright granted the order Friday afternoon to halt the Friendship Education Foundation from taking on a transformation contract with the Marvell-Elaine School District.
The request for the restraining order came from a group of teachers currently employed by the school district as well as the group Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students, also known as CAPES.
The teachers said that the district had entered into a “transformation contract” with the Friendship Education Foundation and that under such a plan the charter-school management company would use the funds allocated towards the district to operate the district’s schools.
As part of the proposed plan, teachers currently employed by the district under one-year contracts were told those contracts with the district were not being renewed for the upcoming 2023-24 school year and that they would have to apply for new jobs with the Friendship Education Foundation.
The use of this kind of transformation contract was made possible by the passage of the Arkansas LEARNS Act, an omnibus education bill championed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a way to radically overhaul education in the state.
While the measure passed through the Republican-controlled Arkansas General Assembly with relative ease, there has been a legal challenge contesting lawmakers did not follow the proper procedures to pass the bill with an emergency clause that would have made it immediately take effect in the state.
The order claims that since another court has scheduled a hearing on the implementation date of the bill for June 20, the district should be blocked from taking action under the LEARNS Act to dismiss the teachers until after that other hearing.
Alexa Henning, communication director for the governor’s office, shared the following statement from Sanders about the judge’s ruling:
“This is an absurd lawsuit with zero merit and we will file an appeal immediately. It’s sad the radical left is playing political games with children’s futures. We are focused on making sure that every kid in AR has access to a quality education, teachers have the pay raises they deserve, and parents are empowered. We expect to be vindicated at the Supreme Court and I’m confident that the AG will be able to vigorously defend it.”Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, via Twitter
According to Talk Business and Politics editor Roby Brock, Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin had filed an appeal of the ruling late Friday.
Shortly after 5 p.m., Griffin released a statement on the judge’s decision, which he called “erroneous.”
“The LEARNS Act provides students and parents new opportunities and better-performing schools. It was passed in accordance with the Arkansas Constitution, is currently the law in Arkansas, and I won’t allow one erroneous decision by a circuit court judge in Little Rock to deprive the children of Arkansas of the wonderful and lawful opportunities awaiting them under the LEARNS Act. That’s why I’ve immediately appealed the Pulaski County Circuit Court’s order enjoining the LEARNS Act to the Arkansas Supreme Court.”Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.