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Justices dismiss public school funding case

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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 a task falling solely to the General Assembly.

The Indiana Supreme Court issued its 4-1 ruling today in the public education financing case of Joseph and LaTanya Bonner, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, et al., No. 49S02-0809-CV-525, which involves an issue of first impression asking justices to interpret the state constitution on public education financing.

Nine public school students and their families from eight different school systems throughout the state filed the class-action suit in 2006, claiming the school funding formula violates the Indiana Constitution's Education Clause. They contended it didn't provide enough money for all children to have a fair chance to learn. Defendants were Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Indiana Board of Education, and Tony Bennett, state superintendent of public instruction.

Plaintiffs brought their case under the Indiana Declaratory Judgment Act, claiming the legislature-approved school funding formula that's implemented by the education board violates the guarantee set out in the state constitution. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that three constitutional clauses impose a duty to provide public school students with an education of satisfactory quality and that the state government had failed to do that.

The plaintiffs emphasized they weren't seeking a judicial mandate for any particular school funding system but rather wanted a judicial declaration that the current system "falls woefully short of the requirements of the Indiana Constitution."

The trial court had dismissed the case and a Court of Appeals panel last year reversed that dismissal, finding that the courts could review that formula to determine if Indiana is meeting a constitutional requirement to provide a quality public education for all students.

But a majority of the justices disagreed, with Justice Brent Dickson writing for the majority.

"Although recognizing the Indiana Constitution directs the General Assembly to establish a general and uniform system of public schools, we hold that it does not mandate any judicially enforceable standard of quality, and to the extent that an individual student has a right, entitlement, or privilege to pursue public education, this derives from the enactments of the General Assembly, not the Indiana Constitution," he wrote. "We conclude that the framers and ratifiers certainly sought to establish a state system of free common schools but not to create a constitutional right to be educated to a certain quality or other output standard."

To dismiss the case, justices relied on Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6) that permits dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented, saying that he doesn't know if plaintiffs would prevail at the trial court level on the merits or survive summary judgment, but that to "say in effect that plaintiffs have not presented a justiciable issue is simply wrong in my view."

In his own concurring opinion, Justice Theodore Boehm agreed with Justice Rucker and noted that this provision does create a judicially enforceable standard that courts are able to analyze. But he ultimately agreed with the majority in writing that "the claim that our present system is inadequate is simply too amorphous for judicial resolution."

"In sum, the problems of Indiana's system of funding public schools may be as severe as the plaintiffs allege, but I see no reasonable prospect of a judicial remedy that would be effective and properly balance the many considerations involved in redesigning the state's educational system," he wrote. "The most the courts could order would be to direct the legislative and executive branches to go back to the drawing board and try again to construct an improved and constitutionally acceptable system of common schools. Because we are unable to articulate any clear or even vague direction as to what standards to apply in that endeavor, the courts should acknowledge that adequacy of education, like the level of taxation, is a matter the Constitution reserves to the legislative branch."

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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