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Indiana Supreme Court: State Constitution Does Not Mandate Standard of Quality in Education
Posted in Litigation

In Bonner v. Daniels, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the Indiana Constitution “does not mandate any judicially enforceable standard of quality, and that to the extent that an individual student has a right, entitlement, or privilege to pursue public education, this derives from the enactments of the General Assembly, not from the Indiana Constitution.”

Justice Dickson, writing for the majority, explained that the Education Clause of the Indiana Constitution (Article 8, § 1) imposes two duties on the General Assembly.  First, the General Assembly is to “encourage moral, intellectual, scientific and agricultural improvement.”  Second, the General Assembly is to “provide for a general and uniform system of open common schools without tuition.”  After commenting that the first duty is “general and aspirational,” the Court noted that “judicial enforceability is more plausible as to the second duty than the first.” 

The Court addressed the plaintiffs’ claim that the Education Clause imposes an affirmative duty on the state to provide a certain standard of quality of public education in the context of the history of the Constitution.  The Court noted that neither the language of the 1816 Constitution nor the language in the current Constitution, ratified in 1851, contains anything about educational quality.  Citing Nagy v. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation, 844 N.E.2d 481 (Ind. 2006), the Court stated that the Education Clause leaves the task of determining the components of a public education to the authority of the legislative branch and limits the legislative branch’s power only in that the education system must be a “general and uniform” one and “tuition must be free and open to all.”

The Court also disposed of the plaintiffs’ arguments regarding the Indiana Constitution’s Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause and its Due Course of Law Clause.  The Court stated that both claims are predicated on the assertion that Indiana students are guaranteed a constitutional right to receive an adequate public education.  The Court concluded that this right is not contained in the Education Clause and that it is not enumerated among the individual rights in the Bill of Rights.  Thus, “to the extent that an individual student may have a right . . . to pursue public education [that right] derives from the enactments of the General Assembly.”

Justice Boehm, in a separate concurrence, stated his belief that the Education Clause is similar to the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution in that it requires that citizens be treated equally, but does not dictate the substance of any program or require how it be carried out. 

In dissent, Justice Rucker stated that he does not find the idea that the Education Clause imposes a duty to meet a minimum standard of education “particularly remarkable.”  He concluded, however, that even if the Education Clause does not impose such a duty, on the facts taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the State is not meeting its duty to provide “a general and uniform system of open public schools.”  Thus, he would reverse the trial court’s grant of defendant’s motion to dismiss.

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