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Judge denies state's motion to dismiss school-funding lawsuit

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A lawsuit brought by parents and three school corporations regarding the state’s school-funding formula has been allowed to proceed, a Hamilton Superior judge ruled.

Hamilton Superior Judge Steven R. Nation denied Nov. 24 the state’s motion to dismiss the suit brought by Hamilton Southeastern Schools in Hamilton County, Middlebury Community Schools in Elkhart County, and Franklin Township Community School Corporation in Marion County, and parents on behalf of their children and other minor children. The suit Hamilton Southeastern Schools, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, Governor of the State of Indiana, et al., No. 29D01-1002-PL-198, was filed in February.

The schools argued that the state's non-uniform school-funding scheme has a negative impact on its students. The plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of Title 20, Article 43 of Indiana Code, which sets out the state's scheme for distributing education funds to school corporations, saying it violates the Education Clause of the Indiana Constitution.

The suit says the three school corporations receive dramatically less funding than other school corporations. The suit also alleges the 2010 introduction of the restoration grant, which allows some corporations to make up losses in the baseline per-pupil funding level, will add to the disparity.

The state moved to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim, but Judge Nation found the plaintiffs have standing to sue and their complaints should proceed. The judge noted how this litigation doesn’t present the same issues as Bonner v. Daniels, 907 N.E.2d 516 (Ind. 2009), in which public school students sued based on the premise that the Indiana Constitution imposes an enforceable duty on state government to provide a certain quality of education.

The Indiana Supreme Court justices voted 4-1 to dismiss that suit. They ruled even if Indiana's public school system falls short of where it should be in providing quality education, courts aren't constitutionally able to set standards or establish a financing formula because that's up to the General Assembly.

“In that case, the Supreme Court did not have before it whether the same Constitutional language maintains standards for ‘uniformity in education funding,’ as Plaintiffs in this case assert,” he wrote. “The issue in this case is not equality of educational outcomes, … The issue here is uniformity in funding.”

Attorney General Greg Zoeller released a statement on the ruling, reiterating his belief that the school corporations don’t have standing to sue and that only the General Assembly has the authority to change the school-funding formula. He also proposed that legislators prohibit school corporations from using state dollars to sue the state.

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