« Ind. Courts - "Judge Cecile Blau passes Clark County Drug Court to Judge Jerry Jacobi" | Main | Ind. Law - IU Law - Bloomington receives $35 million gift »

Friday, December 05, 2008

Ind. Courts - "State's high court hears school funding challenge"

Yesterday's oral argument before the Supreme Court in the case of Philip A. Bonner, et al. v. Mitch Daniels, et al (see Monday's "upcoming oral arguments" feature here, and the COA 5/2/08 opinion here) is the subject of several stories today.

Niki Kelly's report in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, as with the other two stories today quoted below, is worth reading at length. (Having listened the arguments live yesterday, I can attest that they would have been very difficult to summarize and highlight.) From Kelly's story:

But the state’s five Supreme Court justices on Thursday barely touched the merits of the case – whether enough money is flowing to schools from the state treasury.

Instead, they focused on whether Indiana’s Constitution requires the state to fund education at a certain level. And they questioned both attorneys heavily, hardly letting either man present his own case.

According to the Constitution, it is the duty of the legislative branch, “to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of common schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.”

Weisman argued these words can be interpreted to call for a duty to provide an adequate education for every student.

But Thomas Fisher, arguing on behalf of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, said the plaintiffs shouldn’t be able to challenge the outcomes of the system, so long as the system itself is general and uniform.

“It’s up to the legislature to decide how to prioritize,” he said. “How much money should we spend? How should we spend it? These are legislative questions.

Patrick Guinane writes in his story in the NWI Times:
The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday over whether to advance a lawsuit claiming the state's school funding system does not give all students a fair shot at an adequate education.

Michael Weisman, a Boston attorney who has worked on similar challenges in other states, asked the five Indiana justices to let the 2006 lawsuit go to trial in Marion County.

"What we seek is the opportunity to have a day in court," Weisman said. * * *

The Indiana Constitution, which dates to 1851, calls for the General Assembly to provide "a general and uniform system of common schools."

Tom Fisher, a deputy attorney general representing the state, argued that the lawsuit improperly asks the judiciary to get involved in decisions that should be left to the legislature.

"The courts and the General Assembly should not go back and forth as to what is adequate funding," he said.

The justices peppered Weisman with questions, repeatedly asking whether the lawsuit was an attempt to have the courts tell lawmakers how much should be spent on education.

"It's hard for me to see why this isn't about money," Chief Justice Randall Shepard remarked.

Afterward, Clark said the association's primary goal is to force an independent analysis of whether the current school funding system gives every student an adequate opportunity to meet the state's academic standards.

A Marion County judge originally dismissed the lawsuit, saying it should have been filed against the General Assembly, not the governor and state schools superintendent. A state appeals court reinstated the suit.

From Mike Smith's AP report:
The plaintiffs want the lawsuit to proceed in Marion Superior Court so they can argue their case on the merits and try to prove that many children -- especially those who are poor, minorities, have language challenges or learning disabilities -- do not have the same chance as other children to achieve state-mandated standards. * * *

Justice Frank Sullivan, who was state budget director under then-Gov. Evan Bayh, said the history of court cases on school funding in some states has not been pretty.

"I think, boy, is this something we need to get into?" he asked. But then he suggested that it was sometimes the court's role to delve into such issues, regardless of the political ramifications.

Weisman said the plaintiffs were not asking the courts to specify what amount of money is needed, but to ensure that the state adequately funds education so mandated academic standards can be achieved. He said that courts should be allowed to get involved in the matter, and that court rulings in some states have led to improvements in education.

Fisher said the constitution requires a general and uniform system of education and nothing else. "It is up to the legislature to determine these matters," he said.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 5, 2008 08:18 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions