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Schools sue over state funding formula

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Three Indiana school districts are suing the state over the Indiana's per-pupil school-funding formula.

Hamilton Southeastern Schools in Hamilton County, Franklin Township Community Schools in Marion County, and Middlebury Community Schools in Elkhart County filed the suit, Hamilton Southeastern Schools, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, et al., No. 29D01-1002-PL-198, today in Hamilton Superior Court.

The schools argue that the state's non-uniform school-funding scheme has a negative impact on its students. The suit challenges 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 schools receive dramatically less funding than other school corporations. The three schools had per-pupil revenues of approximately $5,100 in 2009; Indianapolis Public Schools had per-pupil revenues of more than $7,800.

The suit also alleges the 2010 changes to the school-funding scheme will add to the disparity. The schools are represented by Franczek Radelet in Chicago and Riley Bennett & Egloff in Indianapolis.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is disappointed that the school systems decided to file a lawsuit in order to challenge the funding formula. He said in a statement that the costly litigation should have been avoided and the issue would be better handled by legislators.

"The costs for the schools' lawyers to bring this suit and for the State's lawyers to defend it, and for the Court to preside over it ultimately are paid through the same source: taxpayers' wallets," Zoeller said.

The school funding issue arose in a case of first impression last year before the Indiana Supreme Court, Joseph and LaTanya Bonner, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, et al., No. 49S02-0809-CV-525, in which the justices voted 4-1 to dismiss the case. The plaintiffs in that case sought a judicial declaration that Indiana's system of school funding violates the Education Clause, the Due Course of Law Clause, and the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Indiana Constitution.

The justices ruled even if Indiana's public school system fall 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.

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