The Indiana state constitution does not require schools to provide transportation for students, according to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Indianapolis' Franklin Township Schools stopped providing transportation for one year in 2011 because of a dramatic budget shortfall. A private company was hired to transport students and a fee was charged, writes Eric Weddle for WBAA Public Radio. Although parents filed a class-action lawsuit arguing that the Indiana constitution prohibits school corporations from discontinuing busing, the state Supreme Court disagreed.
Franklin Superintendent Flora Reichanadter feels that the issue has been resolved.
"I also think it provides clarity to school districts across the state because there are some districts, like Speedway for example, that have walk zones. It provides definition, if you have students walking to school in way to get there safely — do you have to provide transportation in a climate where financial resources are limited," Reichanadter says.
In spite of the fact that the school districts must give three years notice before they cease providing transportation service, the parent who led the legal challenge, Lora Hoagland, expects serious repercussions.
"It opens the doors for schools to be more fiscally irresponsible with their money and now they know where they can't cut those expenses. Which will hinder some children from getting to school, mainly the less fortunate children," warns Hoagland.
The Associated Press reports that when the district eliminated its free bus service for the 2011-2012 school year, it did so to reduce financial losses after a tax referendum failed. At that time, large numbers of unhappy parents drove their children to school rather than pay the expensive fees that would allow their children to ride a bus run by a private contractor. As a result, the state law was revised to stipulate that districts "may" provide transportation, but cannot charge fees for the service unless the buses are being used for a special event.
The Indiana Court of Appeals last June found that the district had violated the constitution by stopping transportation for students based on the constitution's reference to a "free public education." The court said that "the framers did not intend for every aspect of public education to be free." IndyStar reporter Kris Turner, along with the Associated Press, quote Justice Steven David, who said:
"This court does not dispute that being present at school is necessary to avail oneself of the benefits of the education offered there. However, that does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the school corporation alone must provide transportation under the Education Clause."
The fiscal struggles will continue for the Franklin Township School Corporation in the same way it will continue for other districts across the state. The state-mandated property tax caps are a major reason the district is short $18 million a year, as local property tax revenues that pay for schools' transportation and facilities costs.
Indiana's WRTV reported a statement from Hoagland concerning the ruling this week:
"I was a little surprised. Kids can't get an education if they can't go to school. I believe there's going to be class welfare going on. You're going to have families who can pay for busing and those that aren't," said Lora Hoagland, the Franklin Township mother who filed the initial lawsuit. "As parents we're required that our children go to school, and now we're required to figure out how to get them there too. And some families just can't. They don't have any options to get them to school."