Arkansas Supreme Court won’t lift order blocking education overhaul, will move quickly on appeal

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court declined Friday to block a judge’s order preventing the state from enforcing Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ education overhaul. But they said they will move quickly to consider an appeal of the judge’s decision.

Justices denied the state’s request to stay a Pulaski County judge’s temporary restraining order halting the education law’s enforcement. Opponents of the law have argued that legislators did not follow the correct procedures for it to be enacted immediately.

The court also gave both sides in the lawsuit until Wednesday to file briefs over the challenge to the order.

Opponents of the law are challenging a contract approved under the law for a charter school group to run an east Arkansas school district. Their lawsuit argues that the Legislature violated the Arkansas Constitution by not voting separately on the emergency clause that allows the law to take effect immediately. Without that clause, the law can’t take effect until later this summer.

“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,” Ali Noland, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “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.”

Republican Attorney General Tim Griffin said he was disappointed that the court wouldn’t stay the judge’s decision against the law, but he was pleased justices planned to move quickly on the appeal.

In a statement, Griffin said the law is 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.”

The education overhaul also phases in a school voucher program, raises minimum salaries for teachers for the 2023-2024 school year and prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms before 5th grade.

“This lawsuit is absurd,” Sanders tweeted. “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.”

Arkansas lawmakers have for years voted on bills and emergency clauses at the same time, typically only voting on the emergency clause separately if the bill fails to garner the two-thirds vote needed for it to take effect immediately. The votes on the bill and the emergency clause are recorded separately in the House and Senate journals.

The state has argued that finding that approach unconstitutional could create chaos about the validity of other laws that were enacted in that fashion.