Judge Mary McGowan today denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit contending the state has illegally continued control of the Little Rock School District beyond the five-year statutory limit, which expired in January.

The state tried to raise arguments of sovereign immunity, which protects the state from lawsuit except for illegal acts.

The judge said, for purposes of allowing the lawsuit to proceed, she had to take as true the plaintiffs’ argument that the state had violated law by continuing control after five years; by failing to properly adopt an “exit strategy” from state control and by placing  “guardails” (severe limits) on the powers of a school board to be elected in November.

So the suit can proceed to final judgment, which should be decided on the law and the agreed factual situation.

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The suit was brought by five plaintiffs represented by Ross Noland and Clarke Tucker against the state Education Department, Education Secretary Johnny Key and the state Board of Education.

Tucker noted that the judge also found plaintiffs had made a plausible claim that the Every Student Succeeds Act, which uses high-stakes testing as a measure of school success or failure, creates an unconstitutional delegation of power to the Department of Education and state Board of Education.

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The plaintiffs have a motion pending to have a court-appointed receiver manage the district in place of the state Education Department. But remedies and a timeline aren’t a part of today’s ruling, nonetheless an important hurdle.

Here’s the judge’s order.