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Friday, March 31, 2006

Ind. Decisions - More on Supreme Court's school fees decision

Jennifer Whitson of the Evansville Courier& Press reports today on the Nagy decision (see earlier ILB entry from yesterday here or scroll down two). Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS - In a split decision handed down Thursday, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that a general, $20 fee the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. charged violated the state constitution.

"The mandatory fee EVSC imposed generally on all students, whether the student avails herself of a service or participates in a program activity or no, becomes a charge for attending a public school ... and is therefore unconstitutional," Justice Robert D. Rucker wrote in the majority opinion. * * *

The fee raised roughly $368,000 in 2002, which went into the corporation's general fund. * * *

In a majority opinion that reads like a history lesson, Rucker outlined the debate on the constitution's wording surrounding public education in the 1850s and concluded that charging for extracurricular or additional services is OK. But if the fee covers any education mandated by state laws or rules, it is tuition.

The majority also went out of its way to say it did not agree with the Indiana Court of Appeals' broader decision, which also called into question a 1974 court ruling that said charging for textbooks was constitutional.

"We are of the view that the holding expressed by our colleagues sweeps a little too broadly," Rucker wrote.

The only dissenting justice, Frank Sullivan Jr., said he agreed with the bar the majority set to judge what constitutes tuition. But, he wrote, applying that criteria to the EVSC case should have caused a different result.

He wrote the facts agreed to in the lower rulings state that EVSC used the fee for things not required by state law or rule, thus "I believe that even under the court's construction of (the constitution), the fee was permissible." * * *

EVSC attorney Patrick Shoulders said he thinks the dissenting justice had the right answer.

"It seems to me the Supreme Court agreed with our interpretation of the constitutional provision in question," Shoulders said, adding he was confused by their outcome.

"The trial court found the facts and the facts are we didn't charge the fee for any state-mandated curriculum or requirement," he said.

Shoulders said the main point of contention left, especially since the corporation isn't charging the general fee anymore, would be whether they must refund the nearly $588,000 collected from parents. "We have a half a million dollar question on our hands here," he said.

Suess said the plaintiffs' request was to halt collections and refund the fee, adding that she will be arguing for the refund when the case returns to Vanderburgh County.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 31, 2006 06:53 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions