School Fees Ruled Unconstitutional After ACLU of Indiana Challenge

March 30, 2006 12:00 am

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court today ruled in favor of parents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana in a state constitutional challenge to mandatory student fees charged by Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation for all K-12 students.

“We are pleased the court decided the Indiana Constitution prohibits the Evansville school corporation from imposing a fee for services that are essential to young Hoosiers’ education,” said ACLU attorney Jacquelyn Bowie Suess.

In deciding the case of Nagy vs. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation, the court held that Article 8, Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution, which states in part that “tuition shall be without charge,” blocks the school from imposing a mandatory $20 student services fee.

The fee was used to pay for costs such as school nurses, elementary school counselors and athletics.

“In essence, the very programs, services and activities for which [the school corporation] charges a fee already are a part of a publicly funded education in the state of Indiana,” Justice Robert Rucker wrote for a 4-1 majority. Justice Frank Sullivan dissented.

Some of the ACLU clients who challenged the fee were eligible for free school lunch programs because of their limited incomes, but school officials still required them to pay the mandatory student services fee.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reached a similar decision in 2004 on this same case, also questioning a 1974 Indiana ruling which had held that it was constitutional to charge textbook rental fees. Indiana is one of only 10 states that require student textbook fees, but the Indiana Supreme Court did not follow the Court of Appeals’ lead in questioning whether textbook rental fees are constitutionally permissible.

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