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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. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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