INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana school districts are not required by the state constitution to provide transportation for students, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
The decision addresses an issue that has been a source of contention in the state for several years, with funding shortfalls leaving some districts struggling to pay for transportation service.
In 2010, Franklin Township Community School Corp. decided to outsource its transportation to a not-for-profit agency and to begin charging annual bus fees of $475 per student.
However, the Indiana attorney general issued an opinion in which he deemed school bus fees unconstitutional, which prompted the Franklin Township school board to rescind its bus fee plan.
Later, in the 2011-12 school year, Franklin Township discontinued transportation service due to a budget deficit. But the following school year, 2012-13, debt restructuring enabled the district to bring back transportation.
Even though Franklin Township dropped its bus fees plan, the issue continued to be debated in Indiana's courts and legislature. Parents filed a class-action lawsuit against the school district in 2011. Also, in 2012, legislation banning fees for home-to-school transportation in the state was signed into law.
The court case ended up in the Indiana Supreme Court, which led to Tuesday’s ruling that the state constitution doesn’t require school districts to provide student transportation.
In a letter to the Franklin Township community, school district Superintendent Flora Reichanadter said that the ruling “means that although it was a challenging time for our community” — referring to the district’s elimination of bus service in the 2011-12 school year — “it was not unconstitutional.”
Reichanadter noted that property tax caps cause the school district to lose more than $18 million in funding per year. Still, she said that Franklin Township “has no plans in the immediate future to eliminate transportation.”
Indiana school districts are allowed to discontinue transportation service if they give three years’ notice to the public. Michael LaRocco, director of the office of school transportation at the Indiana Department of Education, told SBF that at least three districts have already taken that route. (School districts can also petition the Department of Education for a waiver to allow them to end transportation service in the next school year. One district attempted that method but was denied.)
Regarding the option to give three years' notice to end bus service, the Franklin Township district “has not given that notice, and there is no discussion at this time of such notice,” Reichanadter said.
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