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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Indiana Decisions - School textbook fees

The Indianapolis Star today has an opinion piece on school textbook fees. Some quotes:

For more than a decade, the Indiana General Assembly has discussed eliminating the fee, but has been deterred by budgetary constraints. It would cost more than $75 million to fund all textbooks of K-12 students.

The courts may beat lawmakers to the punch. A case on appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court raises the question: Do such fees violate the state constitution's guarantee of free tuition? To paraphrase a former president, it depends on what the meaning of "tuition" is.

Indiana's Constitution of 1851 guarantees "a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all."

The case arose because of:
a $20 student activity fee imposed in the 2003-04 school year by the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. Faced with a big budget deficit and wanting to avoid cuts in programs and staff, the district imposed the fee on all students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It was to help pay for a variety of things, including counselors, nurses, extracurricular activities and athletic programs. * * * A Vanderburgh Superior Court * * * said students in the free/reduced-price lunch program shouldn't have to pay the fee.

On appeal, a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals said no family should. "Although the fee being charged by the EVSC is currently 'only' 20 dollars, nothing in the logic of the (school district's) argument would prohibit public schools from charging a student a $200 fee, or for that matter even a $2,000 fee. This logic would permit our system of public schools to be priced out of reach in order to avoid raising local taxes."

The court added, "It is absurd to suggest that public schools may not charge for the services of a teacher, but may charge students a fee for things as essential to teaching and instruction as the services of the teacher, such as school buildings, maintenance, heating and cooling, electricity, or textbooks."

The case is Frank Nagy, et al. v. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (5/28/04 IndCtApp). Access the May 28th Indiana Law Blog entry here (5th case down), along with links to, and quotes from, newspaper reports at the time.

The Star column also refers to a 2001 Official Opinion by Attorney General Stephen Carter: "In a similar case in June 2001, Attorney General Stephen Carter concluded that a Health Services Fee imposed in 1995 by the Eagle-Union Community School Corp. to pay for nurses was unconstitutional. Carter's opinion came at the request of a state legislator and carried no legal force." Access the AG's 2001 opinion here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 18, 2004 07:44 AM
Posted to Indiana Decisions